A Democratic attempt to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. ended in failure Monday, with almost half of the Senate's Democrats voting against it -- an outcome that cleared the way for Alito's confirmation to a seat on the high court today.
Massachusetts Sens. John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy launched the filibuster drive last week in what they described as a last-ditch effort to halt the confirmation of Alito, a federal appeals court judge that liberals have charged is a conservative ideologue who will shift the Supreme Court to the right.
The Senate voted 72 to 25 to end debate on President Bush's nomination of Alito. Democrats described the attempted filibuster, which appeared doomed from the start, as a stand on principle.
"Trying everything in our power to stop an ideological coup on the Supreme Court was the right thing to do," Kerry said. "We knew we faced steep odds, but we also knew that once Judge Alito becomes Justice Alito, there's no turning back the Senate confirmation vote."
The filibuster effort split the Senate's 44 Democrats, 19 of whom voted to end debate.
Some filibuster opponents -- Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Bill Nelson of Florida -- are Democrats seeking reelection this year in states that are either Republican-dominated or closely divided between the two parties.
Also, several Democrats who supported the filibuster, notably Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), did so with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.
Favoring the filibuster were several Democrats believed to be considering a presidential run in 2008: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Kerry, the party's 2004 nominee.
Despite the split over the filibuster, Democrats are largely united in their opposition to Alito's confirmation. Only four Democrats -- Byrd, Nelson of Nebraska, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Kent Conrad of North Dakota -- have announced their support for him.
Senate aides said they expected 41 senators -- including one Republican, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island -- to vote against Alito, making his confirmation vote the most divisive since 48 senators voted against Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation in 1991.
Republicans derided the attempt to stall Alito's confirmation as a waste of time and energy.
"Today, a bipartisan majority of senators embraced the principle of a fair, up-or-down vote for judicial nominees and rejected partisan obstruction," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). "And tomorrow a majority of my colleagues will confirm what the majority of Americans already know: that Judge Alito deserves to be Justice Alito."
Bush issued a statement praising the end of debate: "I am pleased that a strong, bipartisan majority in the Senate decisively rejected attempts to obstruct and filibuster an up-or-down vote on Judge Sam Alito's nomination.... I look forward to the Senate voting to confirm Sam Alito as the 110th justice of the Supreme Court."
Under Senate rules, a senator has the right to debate an issue without limit unless 60 lawmakers vote to end it.
Both of California's senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, voted to support the filibuster.
"Although we knew the votes weren't there for the filibuster of Judge Alito," Boxer said, the attempt was important "so the American people would know that we were willing to pursue a losing effort because the stakes are so high."
Three senators -- two Republicans and one Democrat -- were absent Monday: Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) were traveling, and John Ensign (R-Nev.) was recovering from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
Liberal advocacy groups expressed disappointment with the vote's outcome.
"We are grateful for the leadership shown by senators who worked to prevent Samuel Alito's confirmation to a lifetime seat on our nation's highest court, and it is excruciatingly disappointing that more senators did not consider Alito's record sufficient reason to join those efforts," said Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way.
Conservative advocacy groups looked forward to Alito's expected confirmation.
"The final hurdle has been cleared in confirming Judge Alito for a seat on the Supreme Court," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice.
"The final push by a small number of Democrats to filibuster the Alito nomination was clearly rejected by senators in both political parties."