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US Senate Begins Debate on Supreme Court Nomination

The U.S. Senate has opened debate on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, with a confirmation vote expected as early as the end of the week.

Senate Democrats took to the Senate floor to express their concerns that if Judge Samuel Alito is confirmed to the Supreme Court, he would defer to presidential power and erode civil liberties and women's rights.

"In case after case, Judge Alito's decisions demonstrate a systematic tilt toward powerful institutions and against individuals attempting to vindicate their rights," said Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat..

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee chastised such critics, and underscored his own support for Alito.

"Those who oppose him are smearing a decent and honorable man, and imposing an unfair political standard on all judicial nominees," he said. "I support Judge Alito because he is exceptionally qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice. I support Judge Alito because he is a man of integrity and modest judicial temperament."

If he is confirmed, Alito would succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is considered a moderate and who often cast the deciding vote in controversial cases on the divided court.

Democrats are concerned Alito would shift the ideological balance of the court to the right. They note that Supreme Court justices serve for life, and that Alito could have an impact on the lives of generations of Americans.

Still, there is not enough support among Democrats to block the nomination from coming to a floor vote through the use of a filibuster, or extended debate.

Instead, Democrats are using the debate to try to score political points. They are taking aim at President Bush's decision to order, without court warrants, eavesdropping on Americans suspected of having terrorist ties - a move the president defends as legal under his authority.

"The liberties and rights that define us as Americans, and the system of checks and balances that serve to preserve them, should not be sacrificed to threats of terrorism or to the expanding power of the government," said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

Despite the opposition by many Democrats, the Senate - which is controlled by Republicans - is likely to confirm Alito. The vote, which could come as early as Friday, is expected to be along party lines.

On Tuesday, the 18-member Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee approved Alito's nomination, with all 10 Democrats in opposition.