Smith, Wyden take wait-and-see approach to Alito

WASHINGTON – Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden said Monday they need to learn more about President Bush’s latest choice for the Supreme Court before making up their minds on veteran appeals court judge Samuel Alito.


Bush nominated Alito for the Supreme Court Monday, prompting praise from conservatives who hope to shift the judiciary to the right, and condemnation from some Democrats who warned that Alito may be too radical for the American people.


Alito, 55, a former federal prosecutor who serves on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is widely considered a conservative who could tilt the high court to the right.


If confirmed by the Senate, Alito would replace retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a decisive swing vote in a range of cases from affirmative action to abortion, campaign finance and the death penalty.


Smith and Wyden struck a middle ground in evaluating the nomination.


Smith, a Republican, said Alito "clearly has a wealth of experience and a long record," adding: "I look forward to learning more about him in the upcoming weeks. I also hope he will receive an up-or-down vote without unnecessary delay."


Wyden, a Democrat, said the nomination appeared to "indicate a step to the right from Harriet Miers," the president’s legal counsel, who withdrew her name as a Supreme Court nominee last week among criticism from conservatives who were suspicious of her ideology.


Like Smith, Wyden said he intends to watch Alito’s confirmation hearings "very closely to see if he has the fair-minded, independent judicial temperament required for confirmation to the Supreme Court."


Both Wyden and Smith supported Bush’s nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts in September.


Smith, in his statement, said the duty of Supreme Court justices is to "faithfully interpret the law and refrain from legislating from the bench. In evaluating Judge Alito, I will pay close attention to his legal acumen, his record, and his judicial temperament."