Senate Democrats, stung by President Bush’s choice of Judge Samuel Alito to serve on the Supreme Court, are considering options and are refusing to rule out a filibuster in an effort to bring the nominee down.
While no Senate Democrat has publicly announced opposition to the nomination _ yet _ lawmakers on that side of the aisle haven’t tried to hide their disappointment.
“It is sad that the president felt he had to pick a nominee likely to divide America instead of choosing a nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O’Connor, who would unify us,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a key figure on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This controversial nominee, who would make the court less diverse and far more conservative, will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and from the American people.”
Democrats so far have avoided publicly discussing a filibuster to halt the nomination, a replacement for Bush’s previous unsuccessful pick, White House counsel Harriet Miers. But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada says that no tactic has been ruled out. That acknowledgement, coupled with the intensity of feelings against the nominee, has led to open speculation that Democrats will seek to waylay a vote.
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said a filibuster is “probably the only means by which Democrats could block the confirmation of a Judge Samuel Alito” and warned that partisans on the left “are going full-bore to defeat the confirmation.”
“Liberals are sure to conduct a vicious campaign of character assassination against Judge Alito,” Keene said. “Senate leaders must stand up to the brutal tactics of the left and deliver the strong constitutionalist justice America needs. The fight to defend a conservative Supreme Court nominee is far too important for any of us to sit on the sidelines.”
Under current Senate rules, Democrats can tie up debate on Alito’s confirmation with 40 votes _ meaning Republicans would need 60 votes to proceed in the 100-member chamber. Republicans control the upper chamber, 55-44, with one independent, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who usually votes with Democrats.
If Democrats stick together, they can block the Alito nomination. They might also look to moderate Republicans like Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who are likely to have reservations about the appeals-court judge’s views on a woman’s right to an abortion.
But Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee already has indicated he likely will seek a change in Senate rules _ a move that requires only a majority vote _ to prohibit the filibuster of a judicial nominee if Democrats decide to go there.
Frist considered that option earlier this year when Senate Democrats blocked the consideration of several of Bush’s appeals-court nominees, including Judge Priscilla Owen of Texas to the 5th Circuit, because Democrats considered them outside the mainstream. A showdown was avoided when a bipartisan collection of lawmakers, called the Gang of 14, reached a compromise that permitted some of the president’s choices to get through, including Owen.
But that could prove a temporary respite.
Already at least two members of the coalition, Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have broken away to declare they wouldn’t support a filibuster to kill the Alito nomination. The group, consisting of moderates on both sides of the aisle, is scheduled to meet on Thursday.
Meanwhile, some Democratic members of the Gang of 14 are indicating they are not pleased with the president’s choice. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said he found it “disappointing” that Bush didn’t consult with Democrats on the nomination. The lawmaker said: “It remains to be seen whether Judge Alito will satisfactorily fill the mainstream position.”
“At the beginning of the 21st century, we see huge forward strides made by women in our society including their representation in law school and in legal and judicial careers,” Salazar said. “For me, it is a grave disappointment, that out of the thousands of qualified women in the United States, the president has not chosen one among them to replace Sandra Day O’Connor.”
(Contact Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com)