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Alito vote postponed

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- As the weeklong hearings on Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s Supreme Court nomination came to an end yesterday, Senate Democrats indicated that they would delay a vote on his nomination for a week. But those on both sides of the aisle said they expected Alito to be confirmed this month, without a filibuster, by the full Senate.

Gaveling the hearing to a close yesterday afternoon, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter announced that he would vote for Alito, setting the stage for a 10-8 party-line vote in the committee in favor of the nomination. No Democrats on the committee have announced how they would vote, but all have suggested that they would oppose Alito.

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In previous battles over President Bush's judicial picks, a party-line vote out of committee has presaged a filibuster. But several Senate Democrats said a filibuster was unlikely, largely because of Alito's performance during 18 hours of questioning.

This week's hearings were expected to be contentious. Alito, nominated to replace moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, could shift the court's philosophical balance to the right on issues such as abortion, affirmative action, religion and the death penalty.

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As the hearings began, Senate Democrats brought in Alito's 15-year record as an appellate court judge, as well as his writings from his tenure as a solidly conservative lawyer in the Reagan administration. All the Democrats delivered tough opening statements on Monday, saying they would scrutinize his views on executive power and abortion, and would press him to explain how he had failed to recuse himself in a case involving a mutual fund in which he was invested.

But then came Alito, who delivered a deeply personal opening statement that touched on the influences in his life and recalled his parents' struggles to afford an education and get jobs. He vowed to keep an open mind and be independent.

Questioning began Tuesday, but the expected fight never really materialized. Alito calmly responded to senators' questions and engaged them on hot-button issues. By the end of the day, the momentum had shifted to Alito, and, despite efforts on Wednesday by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, the fight never seriously resumed.

Republican strategists criticized Democrats' efforts to delay a vote on Alito.

"It'll be very difficult for the Democrats to sit at the committee and hold him over out of petulance and pettiness," said Stephen Schmidt, a White House spokesman. "The American people had enough of that this week."

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said that Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday would keep senators away from Washington, and that a number of them "will exercise their rights" to delay the vote a week, until Jan. 24.

Jan Crawford Greenburg writes for the Chicago Tribune.


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