Democrats plan Alito filibuster

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- A group of Senate Democrats decided yesterday to launch a last-ditch filibuster effort to block the confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, a move they acknowledged would be an uphill fight.

Alito's confirmation appears all but certain, more than half of the Senate's 100 members having announced that they will vote for him. Along with virtually unanimous support from the chamber's 55 Republicans, Alito picked up the backing of two Democrats, Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, yesterday.

One other Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, had previously signaled that he would vote for Alito.

All three come from states that President Bush won in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Byrd and Nelson are up for re-election this year.

Alito's opponents would need 41 votes to prevent the Senate from ending debate on his nomination by President Bush, a number that appears to be out of reach. Still, Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, both of Massachusetts, were attempting to rally support for a filibuster.

Johnson, whose term runs until 2008, said he was troubled by some of Alito's views, including what he termed the nominee's "narrow interpretation of certain civil rights laws."

He added in a statement, however, that "I cannot accept an argument that his views are so radical that the Senate is justified in denying his confirmation."

Byrd, in comments on the Senate floor, said, "I refuse to simply toe the party line when it comes to Supreme Court justices. Of course, I am a registered Democrat. But when it comes to judges, I hail from a conservative state. And, like a majority of my constituents, I prefer conservative judges, that is, judges who do not try to make the law."

Faced with the filibuster threat, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee scheduled a vote for Monday on closing debate. If the vote ended a filibuster, it would clear the way for a confirmation vote Tuesday, hours before Bush is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address.

Kennedy called the filibuster effort "an uphill battle at the present time."

Bush nominated Alito to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has tended to take moderate to liberal positions on abortion rights and other social issues. She frequently has been the court's swing vote in its recent decisions on such matters.

In addition to Kennedy and Kerry, supporters of a filibuster include Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland.

Sarbanes announced during a speech on the Senate floor that he would vote against Alito.

"I am not persuaded that Judge Alito recognizes the important role the Supreme Court must play in preserving the constitutional balance of power among the three branches of government," Sarbanes said, "or that he recognizes the role of the court as the ultimate guarantor of every individual's constitutional rights and liberties."

Maryland's other senator, Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski, also plans to oppose Alito.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times. Sun reporter Gwyneth K. Shaw contributed to this article.

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