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US Senate to Open Debate on Supreme Court Nominee


The U.S. Senate Wednesday opens debate on President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Samuel Alito, a day after a Senate panel approved the nomination along party lines.

Shortly after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the full Senate for confirmation, Senate Democrats and Republicans offered a preview of their upcoming floor debate at separate news conferences.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the top Democrat in the Senate, noted that all eight Democrats on the 18-member Judiciary Committee voted against the nomination, and he said he would, too.

Reid expressed the concerns of many Democrats who argue Alito, if confirmed, would be too deferential to presidential power at a time when questions have arisen about the legality of President Bush's decision to order, without warrants, eavesdropping on American citizens suspected of having ties to terrorists.

"I have no confidence that he will serve as a real check on the abuse of presidential power that we see so prevalent today in America," said Mr. Reid.

Republicans, including Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, argued otherwise:

"I believe, contrary to the fears of some of my colleagues that Judge Alito will be a check on abuses of power," said Mr. Grassley. "And I am not only concerned about abuses of power by the president, but also abuses of power by the Congress."

If confirmed, Alito would succeed the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is considered a moderate and who often cast the deciding vote in controversial cases on the deeply divided court. Democrats are concerned Alito would shift the ideological balance of the court in a more conservative direction.

"Judge Alito's record is out of the mainstream on issue after issue after issue," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat.

With midterm elections scheduled later this year, Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with the nomination, and not taking seriously their constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on judicial nominations.

Senator Lindsey Graham is a South Carolina Republican.

"We are no longer advising and consenting," he said. "We are jockeying for the next election, and over time we will erode the quality of the judiciary."

Although Democratic leader Reid said he has not ruled out the option of blocking the nomination from coming to a Senate vote through the use of a filibuster, or extended debate, the effort does not appear to have enough support from Democrats to succeed.

The Republican-led Senate could confirm Alito as early as Friday.

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