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US Senate Panel Approves Supreme Court Nominee

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, as expected, has voted to send the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the full Senate for confirmation. The vote was divided along party lines.

The Republican-led committee approved Judge Samuel Alito's nomination on a 10 to eight vote, with all panel's Democrats voting in opposition.

Members of the committee had signaled how they would vote in recent days, so there was little surprise.

As he opened Tuesday's committee session, the Republican chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, explained his support for the nominee.

"His personal background is exemplary, his professional qualifications are outstanding, his educational achievements are of the highest order," Mr. Specter said.

Democrats agree Alito is intelligent and well educated. But they argue his record suggests he is too deferential to presidential power and thus not fit for the high court, particularly at a time when questions have arisen about the legality of President Bush's decision to order, without warrants, eavesdropping on American citizens suspected of having ties to terrorists.

"This is a nomination that I fear threatens the fundamental rights and liberties of all Americans now and for generations to come," said Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the committee. "The president is in the midst of a radical realignment of the powers of the government and its intrusiveness, its intrusiveness into the private lives of Americans. I believe that nomination is part of that plan. I am concerned that if we confirm this nominee, we will further erode the checks and balances that have protected our constitutional rights for more than 200 years."

If confirmed, Alito would succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is considered a moderate, and who has often cast the deciding vote in five-to-four decisions in controversial cases. Democrats fear Alito would shift the ideological balance of the court in a more conservative direction. They are especially concerned he would try to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.

"I am very concerned about the impact he would have on women's rights, including a woman's right to make certain reproductive choices," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and the only woman on the committee.

Republicans, including Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, dismiss the concerns.

"His opinions are thoughtful, well-reasoned, careful and respectful of precedent," he said.

The full Republican-led Senate, which begins debate on the nomination Wednesday, is expected to confirm Alito as early as the end of the week.