WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican leader rebuffed the White House’s appeal for a rapid confirmation of Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court and said the nominee’s hearing will not take place until January.
The White House has been eager for a quick confirmation to provide the administration a political victory after a string of setbacks and to prevent liberal critics of the conservative appellate judge from having more time to dig through his record and build opposition. But committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., displayed his independent streak, saying senators need sufficient time to review Alito’s 15-year record as a judge.
“It couldn’t be done,” Specter said of the White House’s push for a confirmation vote by Christmas. “We have to do it right, we can’t do it fast.” The committee hearing will start Jan. 9, he said, with a targeted full-Senate confirmation vote on Jan. 20.
The announcement came as liberal activists and some Democrats continue to look for gaps in Alito’s armor, acknowledging that his confirmation is likely in the GOP-controlled Senate unless they find a troubling incident or a compelling narrative that plausibly paints him as outside the political mainstream. “There are differences in this (Democratic) caucus as to how conservative he is,” Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said, adding that his party cannot hope to block Alito unless it is united against him and also able to lure a few moderate Republicans.
For now, the Senate’s Democratic leaders and their allies are portraying Alito as the choice of a weakened president deferring his party’s right wing, which forced the withdrawal of the previous nominee, Harriet Miers. But senior Democratic aides acknowledged they have yet to determine which of Alito’s rulings and writings to highlight.
Liberal groups have publicized a few of Alito’s roughly 300 opinions, which they say reflect a narrow view of individual rights and congressional authority. But they say they have many more decisions to examine, and they welcomed the extra time to do so.