Alito document raises hackles

WASHINGTON – Democrats said on Wednesday that Samuel Alito’s confirmation was not guaranteed as senators kept the focus on a 20-year-old document in which the Supreme Court nominee asserted that the Constitution "does not protect a right to an abortion."

"Anyone who thinks that this nomination is a foregone conclusion is sadly mistaken," said New York Sen. Charles Schumer, one of several Democrats who used Senate speeches to criticize Alito.

"There are too many questions still to be answered, too many doubts still to be alleviated to say that this nomination is a slam dunk," Schumer said.

Conservative Republicans came to Alito’s defense, with some committing their votes more than a month before his Jan. 9 confirmation hearing.

Others are warning Democrats not to think about using a filibuster to stop the federal appeals court judge from succeeding retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She has provided pivotal votes on contentious issues, including abortion, during her 24 years on the high court.

"Even a suggestion that he doesn’t deserve an up-or-down vote is outrageous," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

As conservative and liberal senators bickered, outside advocacy groups planned dueling television advertisements for the Senate’s Thanksgiving break. Groups including the liberal Alliance for Justice plan to announce a television campaign Thursday, while the conservative Committee for Justice plans to respond with a Thanksgiving week ad blitz.

Liberal groups "have been allowed to determine the terms of the debate," said Sean Rushton, the conservative group’s spokesman. "We are pushing back."

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, described her group’s ad as "a coordinated grass-roots effort to expose Alito’s legal philosophy, which does not protect core liberties, such as a woman’s constitutional right to choose."

Alito has gotten generally positive reviews from senators since the White House announced his nomination on Halloween as the replacement for Harriet Miers. The White House counsel withdrew her nomination after criticism from conservative commentators about her lack of judicial experience.

Democrats and Republicans have praised Alito’s knowledge, intelligence and his willingness to answer their questions during the private meetings.

But three influential Democrats -Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, liberal stalwart Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – said in Senate speeches that they had "significant concerns" about Alito’s nomination.

"A picture of Sam Alito is emerging that may explain why the extreme right-wing is popping champagne corks," said Reid.

Alito, he said, is "one of the most conservative federal judges in the country."

Some senators are concerned that that Alito, along with recently confirming Chief Justice John Roberts, would move the Supreme Court to the right and perhaps overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights.Alito, in a 1985 application to be deputy assistant attorney general, promoted his anti-abortion work in the solicitor general’s office. That was work, Alito said at the time, "in which I personally believe very strongly."

Alito, a judge for the past 15 years on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has tried to distance himself from the document this week, telling senators that he is older and wiser.

"A lot of things have happened since 1985," the chairman of the Judiciary Committee told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "For one thing, Judge Alito has said that he believes in a right of privacy in the Constitution," said GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who generally has supported abortion rights.