WASHINGTON (AP) – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito turned aside Democratic attacks on his judicial record and credibility at contentious confirmation hearings Wednesday that left his wife in tears.
"If I’m confirmed I’ll be myself,”Alito said, a 15-year veteran of a federal appeals court, named to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for a swing seat on the high court.
Challenged by Democrats, Alito repeatedly said he had no memory of involvement with the conservative Concerned Alumni of Princeton, though he highlighted his membership in a 1985 job application for the Reagan administration.
He repudiated the opinions expressed in articles in the organization’s magazine. "They’re not my views … I deplore them," he said of writing that contained material that was racist, sexist and homophobic.
Under persistent questioning, Alito also declined for a second straight day to say whether he believes, as he did in 1985, that the Constitution contains no right to an abortion. "I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to speak about issues that could realistically come up" before the courts, he said.
Alito, 55, was unflappable for hours on end in marathon questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But his wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, grew emotional near the end of the day and left the hearing room weeping.
"Judge Alito, I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through this. I am sorry that your family has had to sit here and listen to this," said Sen. Lindsey Graham. A moment earlier, the South Carolina Republican had offered Alito a chance to defend his integrity, asking whether he was a "closet bigot."
"I’m not any kind of bigot, I’m not," Alito said.
"No sir, you’re not," Graham agreed.
Alito’s wife returned with him following a brief recess.
The nominee commands the support of all 10 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and while the Democrats could delay his approval by the panel they cannot block it. His prospects for confirmation by the full Senate are also strong, although Democrats have not ruled out the possibility of a filibuster that could require supporters to post 60 votes in the 100-member chamber.
Still, unlike Chief Justice John Roberts last fall, Alito may draw the opposition of all eight Democrats on the Judiciary panel, and partisan maneuvering was evident Wednesday.
Abortion triggered one incident. Sen. Richard Durbin, who supports abortion rights, told Alito that his 1985 written view on abortion "does not evidence an open mind. It evidences a mind that sadly is closed in some areas."
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, saying he wanted to "razz" Durbin, soon noted that the Illinois Democrat had himself changed his mind on abortion. "For 45 years, Senator Durbin was adamantly pro-life, and he wrote multiple, multiple letters expressing that up until 1989," said Republican Coburn.
Later, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy pressed the committee’s chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to subpoena records at the Library of Congress that might shed light on Alito’s membership in the conservative Princeton group.
"If I’m going to be denied that, I’d want to give notice to the chair that you’re going to hear it again and again and again and we’re going to have votes of this committee again and again and again until we have a resolution," said the Massachusetts Democrat.
Specter, bristling, said, "I’m not concerned about your threats to have votes again, again and again. And I’m the chairman of this committee. … And I’m not going to have you run this committee."
The tempest proved short-lived. Specter later announced the committee would have access to the records.
Kennedy questioned Alito sharply about the organization, which drew notice for opposing admission practices that resulted in rising numbers of women and minority students at the Ivy League school.
"If I had received any information at any point regarding any of the matters you referred to … I would never have had anything to do with it," Alito said, who listed his membership in the group on a 1985 job application for the Reagan administration but now says he does not recall anything about it.
Outside the committee room, Kennedy was scathing.
"He can remember all 67 dissents … in great details," he said of Alito and his judicial record. "But he can’t remember anything about this organization."