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Alito Confirmation Panel to Hear from Nominee Thursday


Members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to conclude their questioning of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Thursday, the fourth day of confirmation hearings. On Wednesday, testimony was dominated by the issue of abortion.

Democrats continued to express concern about Judge Samuel Alito's record on abortion, saying it suggests that the nominee, if confirmed, would erode a woman's right to the procedure. They focused on a 1985 memo Alito wrote in a job application with the Reagan administration in which he expressed opposition to the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

"You have been unwilling to distance yourself (from that), and to say that you disagree with that," said Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

Alito responded by saying if confirmed, he would not come to the high court with an agenda. "I would approach that question in which every legal issue that I approach as judge, and that is approach it with an open mind," he said.

Democrats also expressed concern about Alito's responses to questions dealing with his membership in a conservative organization that opposed the admission of women and minorities at Princeton University. Alito had listed the organization on a Reagan administration job application, although at the hearings he said he did not recall participating in the group.

Under questioning by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, Alito said he is not racially or gender biased.

"Are you really a closet bigot?," the Senator asked.

"I am not any kind of a bigot," Alito replied

"No sir, you are not," the senator added.

At one point in the hearing the issue provoked a testy exchange between the committee chairman, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, who requested an immediate committee vote to subpoena records from the organization:

"My request is that we go into executive session for the sole purpose of voting on a subpoena for these records that are held over at the Library of Congress, for that purpose, and that purpose only. If I am going to be denied that, I give notice to the chair that you are going to hear about it again, again and again. We are going to have votes in this committee again and again and again until we have a resolution," he said.

"Well, Senator Kennedy, I am not concerned about your threat to have votes again, again and again. I am the chairman of this committee, and I have heard your request and I will consider it. I am not going to have you run this committee and decide when we are going to go into executive session. We are in the middle of a round of hearings. This is the first time you have personally called it to my attention, and this is the first time that I have focused on it, and I will consider it in due course," the chairman replied

Later, Specter announced the committee would get the records.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan accused Democrats of misrepresenting Alito's record.

Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, offered similar comments. "Your critics I think are grasping for any straw to tarnish your record, and that is unfortunate," he said.

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 five-to-four rulings in controversial cases. Democrats are concerned Alito would shift the ideological balance of the court to the right.