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Alito cautious on reversals

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has signaled he would be highly reluctant to overturn long-standing precedents such as the 1973 Roe vs. Wade abortion rights ruling, a move that has helped to silence some of his critics and may resolve a key problem early in the Senate confirmation process, several senators said Tuesday.

In private meetings with senators who support abortion rights, Alito has said the Supreme Court should be quite wary of reversing decisions that have been repeatedly upheld, according to the senators who said it was clear that the context was abortion.

“He basically said … that Roe was precedent on which people – a lot of people – relied, and been precedent now for decades and therefore deserved great respect,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., told reporters after meeting with Alito on Tuesday. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she had a similar conversation about an hour later with Alito, who has made clear that he personally opposes abortion.

“I asked him whether it made a difference to him if he disagreed with the initial decision, but it had been reaffirmed several times since then,” Collins told reporters. “I was obviously referring to Roe in that question. He assured me that he has tremendous respect for precedent and that his approach is to not overturn cases due to a disagreement with how they were originally decided.”

Collins, Lieberman and others cautioned that they did not directly ask Alito if he would vote to overturn Roe, and that his comments should not be seen as a guarantee of how he may rule. But the conversations appear to be building Alito’s resistance to what might be the biggest impediment to his confirmation: liberals’ claims that he is a threat to legalized abortion, which most Americans support, according to opinion polls.

As a moderate Republican who supports abortion rights, Collins is viewed as pivotal to any serious bid to block Alito. She is a member of the bipartisan “Gang of 14,” which has agreed to oppose a filibuster unless the nomination involves “extraordinary circumstances.” After meeting with Alito, Collins said: “At this point, I see no basis for invoking ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and for anyone to mount a filibuster.”

Her comments came as some key Democrats also said they saw slim chances for a filibuster, in which 41 senators can keep a question from coming to a vote. Republicans hold 55 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a former Judiciary Committee chairman, said this weekend that “my instinct is we should commit” to an up-or-down vote on Alito.

The nominee’s well-received meetings with senators and his ability to calm the concerns of pro-abortion-rights legislators have largely quieted discussions of Alito in a Capitol more consumed by indictments of prominent Republicans, the war in Iraq and the treatment of terrorist suspects.


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