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Bush Court Pick Alito Hailed by Conservatives

President Bush has apparently pleased conservative activists with his choice of Judge Samuel Alito to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Opposition Democrats are less enthusiastic, and are preparing for what could be contentious confirmation hearings in the Senate.

The president's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito came only four days after his previous choice, Harriet Miers, withdrew because of criticism from conservative political activists.

"I am confident that the United States Senate will be impressed by Judge Alito's distinguished record, his measured judicial temperament and his tremendous personal integrity," said Mr. Bush.

Judge Alito, 55, has served as a federal appeals court judge since 1990. Previously, he worked in the Justice Department during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

Judge Alito has argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, and said he reveres the high court as a symbol of American democracy.

"Our dedication, as a free and open society, to liberty and opportunity and, as it says above the entrance to the Supreme Court, equal justice under law," said Mr. Alito.

Conservatives who were unhappy with the Harriet Miers nomination seem pleased with Judge Alito. They like his extensive judicial experience and his long record of conservative rulings on issues like abortion.

Gary Bauer is a former Republican presidential contender and president of a conservative group called American Values.

"He [Alito] is a mainstream conservative, and I think this nomination will obviously have a battle," said Mr. Bauer. "But I am pretty confident that, at the end of the day, he is going to be confirmed."

Judge Alito must now win a majority vote in the Senate for confirmation. Republicans control 55 of the 100 Senate seats, and many are optimistic about the president's new nominee.

John Cornyn is a Republican from Texas and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel that will hold confirmation hearings on the Alito nomination.

"Judge Alito has worked at virtually every level of the federal legal system and the judiciary," he said. "This looks like a John Roberts look-alike, in many ways, to me."

Liberal groups are already urging Senate Democrats to oppose Judge Alito during the confirmation process.

Supporters of abortion rights are concerned with Judge Alito's support for a Pennsylvania law requiring women seeking an abortion to notify their spouses, a law the Supreme Court struck down in 1992.

Nancy Kennan is president of one of the country's leading abortion rights groups, NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"The president caved in to the demands of his far-right base and is attempting to replace the moderate [Justice Sandra Day] O'Connor, Justice O'Connor, with someone who we believe is going to move the court in the direction that threatens our fundamental freedom of choice [on abortion]," she said.

Opposition Democrats say they want a thorough hearing to examine Judge Alito's judicial record, and some question whether he is out of the judicial mainstream.

New York Democrat Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says it appears the president was most concerned with pleasing his conservative base in nominating Judge Alito.

"The initial reaction of myself and other Democrats is that the president missed a real opportunity here to unify the country," said Mr. Schumer.

Some political analysts predict a hard-fought confirmation battle ahead for Judge Alito. They say it is possible that Democrats might use a parliamentary tactic known as the filibuster, which blocks a final vote through endless debate, to try and kill the nomination.

But other analysts say Democrats may have a hard time blocking Judge Alito, because of his strong qualifications and his personal demeanor.

Carl Stern is an expert on the Supreme Court and a professor at George Washington University. He spoke on VOA's Talk To America program.

"Alito's qualifications are not in doubt," said Mr. Stern. "But there is another factor here. He is a very appealing person. He is congenial. He is not spoiling for a fight. There are no sharp edges, and he is an American success story. He is the son of public school teachers, the son of a father who came from Italy in 1914, a mother who is still alive at age 91, a family man with two very attractive children. They are not going to beat up on Alito."

The Alito nomination presents President Bush with an opportunity to begin to regain his political footing at a time when his public approval ratings are the lowest of his presidency.

Mr. Bush's poll ratings have slipped because of public concern over Iraq, domestic fuel prices and the much-criticized government response to hurricane Katrina.

On Friday, the Bush White House got more bad news when Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts of either lying to or trying to mislead investigators in connection with the probe into the leaking of a covert CIA officer's identity two years ago.

Mr. Libby resigned shortly after the indictments were made public, but said he will fight the allegations in court.