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Democrats Continue Tough Questioning of Supreme Court Nominee

  • Deborah Tate

Senate Democrats are continuing their tough questioning of U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Samuel Alito. Abortion has been a key issue at Wednesday's confirmation hearings.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have expressed concern that Judge Samuel Alito, if confirmed to the high court, would seek to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

In discussing the so-called Roe v. Wade case that established a woman's right to abortion, Alito declined to call the decision "settled law." He did call the ruling an "important precedent," but noted that abortion cases continue to be brought before the courts.

"It is an issue that is involved in a considerable amount of litigation that is going on," he said.

"I am concerned that many people will leave this hearing with a question as to whether or not you could be the deciding vote that would eliminate the legality of abortion, that would make it illegal in this country, that would criminalize the conduct of women who are seeking to terminate pregnancies for fear of their lives, and the doctors who help them. said Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. "That is very troubling."

If confirmed, Alito would succeed the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is considered a centrist and who often cast the deciding vote in five-to-four rulings in controversial cases, including cases upholding abortion rights.

But Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, who has made no secret of his desire to see Roe v. Wade overturned, said some Supreme Court decisions are indefensible and should be reconsidered.

"Clearly, some precedents are undeserving of respect because they are repugnant to the Constitution," he said.

On a number of other issues, the committee's top Democrat, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, expressed concerns with Alito's responses.

"A number of us have been troubled by what we see as inconsistencies in some of the answers," he said.

Leahy said he was concerned about how Alito answered questions concerning 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.

At one point during the hearing the issue provoked a testy exchange between the committee chairman and one of the top Democrats, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Another issue that concerned Senator Leahy was Judge Alito's response about his role in a legal case dealing with the investment company Vanguard.

During his 1990 confirmation hearings to be appeals court judge, Alito vowed to remove himself from hearing cases involving Vanguard, which was handling a number of his investments. But in 2002 he did rule in a case involving Vanguard, and during the hearings Tuesday, he told Senators his participation was an oversight, although he said he did nothing wrong.

Republicans dismissed the criticism and praised Alito for his judicial record.

Despite likely opposition from Democrats, Alito is expected to be confirmed by the full Republican-led Senate later this month.