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Senate Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee to Begin in January

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on January 9. President Bush had wanted confirmation proceedings to be completed by the end of this year.

Under the schedule announced by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, his panel would vote on the nomination by January 17th, with a full Senate vote by January 20.

President Bush, who had nominated Judge Alito on Monday, had wanted a confirmation vote by the end of next month.

But Senator Specter said that schedule was not practical nor realistic, as the committee must first review the estimated 300 rulings that Judge Alito has handed down during his 15 years on the federal appeals court before the hearings begin. "It simply was not possible to accommodate the schedule that the White House wanted before Christmas; it just could not be done. We have to do it right, we cannot do it fast," he said.

If confirmed, Judge Alito - who is considered a conservative - would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has often cast the deciding vote in five-to-four rulings involving controversial issues such as abortion. Thus, Judge Alito could shift the balance of power on the high court.

Judge Alito has been meeting with Senators all week. Many Republicans have expressed support for the nominee, but some Democrats have voiced concerns that he would vote to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

A bipartisan group of Senators who earlier this year averted a showdown over Mr. Bush's judicial nominees said Thursday it is too soon to consider whether to allow opposition Democrats to use a procedural tactic, known as a filibuster, to block Judge Alito's nomination.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, is a member of the group. "Our first priority is to try to judge the qualifications of Judge Alito, and that is what we intend to do."

Judge Alito was Mr. Bush's second choice to succeed Justice O'Connor.

His first choice, White House lawyer Harriet Miers, last week withdrew her nomination under fire from Republican conservatives, who make up President Bush's political base. They had questioned her conservative credentials and her qualifications for the high court.