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US Supreme Court Nominee Faces Second Day of Questioning


President Bush's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Samuel Alito, returns to Capitol Hill Wednesday for a second day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, Alito was asked about the limits of presidential power and abortion rights.

Judge Samuel Alito was asked repeatedly about statements he made as a lawyer in the Reagan administration in support of executive branch power. Some Democrats expressed concerns that Alito backed expanded powers for the president at the expense of Americans' civil liberties. Alito responded that the president does not have a "blank check" in terms of power, even in wartime. "Our Constitution applies in times of peace and in times of war, and it protects the rights of Americans under all circumstances," he said.

Alito was asked about President Bush's decision to order, without warrants, eavesdropping on phone calls of Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists. Some lawmakers have questioned the legality of the decision, but Alito declined to comment directly on the matter.

On the issue of abortion, Alito was asked about memos he wrote during his time in the Reagan administration in support of eroding abortion rights.

He responded that he was reflecting the views of the administration at the time, and vowed to approach abortion cases with an open mind.

Some Democrats were not convinced, and expressed concern that Alito, if confirmed, would try to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court case known as Roe versus Wade that legalized abortion.

Senator Charles Schumer is a New York Democrat. "We can only conclude that if the question came before you, it is very likely you would vote to overrule Roe v. Wade," he said.

As he began his questioning of Alito, Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, accused some Democrats of searching for any way to defeat his nomination. "I do think there are those who have already decided to vote against your nomination and are looking for a reason to do so," he said.

For his part, Alito maintained a calm demeanor throughout the long day. In response to one Senator's question, he offered an assessment of the confirmation process so far: "At times it has been a thrill, and at times it has been disorienting," he said.

If confirmed, Alito would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She is considered a centrist and often cast the deciding vote in 5-4 rulings in controversial cases. Some Democrats argue Alito would shift the ideological balance of the court to the right.

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