A partisan battle is brewing in the U.S. Senate over President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Samuel Alito. Senate Democrats say Judge Alito's record raises questions about his commitment to civil rights.
Senate Democrats say they have not formed a final opinion on the merits of the nomination of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court. But they say a review of his record raises their concern.
Senator Charles Schumer is a New York Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings on the nomination.
"A preliminary review of his record raises real questions about Judge Alito's judicial philosophy, his commitment to civil rights, workers' rights, women's rights, the rights of average Americans, which the courts have always looked out for," said Mr. Schumer.
President Bush announced the nomination of the conservative Judge Alito to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, just days after his first choice for the high court seat, White House lawyer Harriet Miers, withdrew from consideration.
Ms. Miers' nomination had been under fire from some of Mr. Bush's conservative political base. They questioned her qualifications for the bench, and her conservative credentials. Ms. Miers had never served as a judge.
Conservatives welcomed Judge Alito's nomination.
Senator Mitch McConnell is a Kentucky Republican.
"The president has made a truly outstanding choice," said Senator McConnell.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican considered a political moderate, praised Judge Alito.
"He brings to this nomination a very distinguished record," he said.
But Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat considered to be among the most liberal lawmakers, argued Mr. Bush bowed to the demands of the most conservative wing of his party in making the nomination. He said, "Mr. Bush picked a nominee, who he hopes will stop the massive hemorrhaging of support on his right wing. This is a nomination based on weakness, not on strength."
At stake in the upcoming confirmation battle is balance of power on the Supreme Court. Retiring Justice O'Connor has often cast the deciding vote on the closely divided court. Conservative Republicans hope, and liberal Democrats fear, that Judge Alito could move the high court rightward.
Judge Alito was asked if he is apprehensive about being the subject of what could be a big fight in the Senate over his nomination.
"I am just looking forward to working with the Senate in the confirmation process, and I will do everything I can to cooperate with them, and to discuss my record as a judge, and the record of what I have done during the other stages of my legal career," he said.
President Bush would like a confirmation vote on the nomination by year's end, although it is not clear if the Senate will be able to meet that deadline, as it has a host of other important legislative matters to finish before it adjourns for the year.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist vows an expedited process.
"We are committed to being fair and civil and dignified, and our pledge to you on behalf of the United States Senate is to accomplish that, and to do it as soon as possible," said Mr. Frist.
Although Judge Alito will only need a simple majority vote to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Democrats could use procedural tactics to block the nomination, if they determine the nominee is outside what they consider the political mainstream. Democrats say it is too early to predict whether they will pursue such a strategy, but they are not ruling it out.
Republicans have threatened to change Senate rules to ban such tactics, if Democrats decide to block the nomination. Democrats say they may then have to force all legislative activity to a halt.