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Abortion Among Issues Facing US Supreme Court Nominee


Republicans and Democrats are bracing for a contentious confirmation process in the Senate over President Bush's choice for the Supreme Court, federal appeals court Judge Samuel Alito. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has a look at some of the issues likely to come up at Judge Alito's confirmation hearings.

Some of the same conservatives who were disappointed with the president's choice of Harriet Miers last month are rallying behind his new nominee, Judge Samuel Alito.

"The wounds are healed and the party is united and conservatives are feeling like this was a grand slam [excellent choice] by the president. I mean the enthusiasm level for Sam Alito is incredibly high," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for a conservative group called the American Center for Law and Justice.

On the other hand, opposition Democrats, who largely withheld their judgment of Harriet Miers, were quick to raise caution flags in the case of Judge Alito.

New York Democrat Charles Schumer is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel that will question Judge Alito about his views on a wide range of legal issues during the upcoming confirmation hearings.

"A preliminary review of his record raises real questions about Judge Alito's judicial philosophy and his commitment to civil rights, workers' rights, women's rights, the rights of average Americans, which the courts have always looked out for," he said.

Judge Alito says if confirmed to the Supreme Court by the Senate, he would continue to apply the law and rule on cases the same way he has over the past 15 years as a federal appeals court judge.

"Federal judges have the duty to interpret the Constitution and the laws faithfully and fairly to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to do these things with care and with restraint," he said.

Special interest groups on both sides of the political divide have already swung into action, both for and against the Alito nomination.

Liberal abortion rights groups oppose Judge Alito and warn that his confirmation would shift the Supreme Court to the right.

"Every woman in America should be concerned about Sam Alito and his view of reproductive freedom and choice and the right to privacy," said Kate Michelman, a former president of one of the leading abortion rights groups, known as NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. But abortion rights supporters argue it has become an essential right of privacy for Americans since the 1973 Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade that legalized the practice.

Conservatives who have long opposed the 1973 Roe decision are excited at the prospect of Judge Alito replacing retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and possibly chipping away at the current court majority that supports legal abortion.

Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, would eventually like to see the Supreme Court overturn its 1973 decision legalizing abortion.

"Since that time [1973 decision], nearly 40 million children have been aborted in America. Forty million lives that could be amongst us, but are not," he said.

Judge Alito has not indicated what his personal position on abortion is. He wrote a dissenting opinion in support of a Pennsylvania law in 1991 that would have required a married woman to notify her husband before obtaining an abortion. That law was later struck down by the Supreme Court on a five-to-four vote, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in the majority.

Liberal groups concerned with issues ranging from civil rights to the death penalty are also preparing for a battle over Judge Alito. Their view is that President Bush is trying to replace the Supreme Court's leading moderate, Justice O'Connor, with a committed conservative.

"She was often the critical vote in five-to-four cases. She has played a role, I think, of pulling the court somewhat to the [political] center," said A.E. Dick Howard, a constitutional law expert at the University of Virginia.

Although abortion is likely to be a major focus at the Alito hearing, a host of other legal issues are expected to come under discussion as well. These include civil rights, women's rights, affirmative action laws designed to encourage the hiring of minorities, and the rights of criminal defendants.