Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Alito had told him in a private meeting that "with respect to his personal views on a woman's right to choose ... that is not a matter to be considered in the deliberation on a constitutional issue of a woman's right to choose. The judicial role is entirely different."
As a young government lawyer opposed to abortion rights, Alito argued for a legal strategy of chipping away at the landmark Supreme Court ruling rather than mounting an all-out assault likely to inflict a defeat on the Reagan administration, according to documents released Wednesday.
"No one seriously believes that the court is about to overrule Roe v. Wade," the current Supreme Court nominee wrote in an internal Justice Department memo on May 30, 1985. Referring to a high court decision to review two abortion-related cases at the time, he asked, "What can be made of this opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling ... and in the meantime, of mitigating its effects."
The memo was among several hundred pages of documents dating from Alito's 1981-1987 tenure in the Justice Department, released on the day for the first time in five years.
CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen says the memo is "a rare and invaluable look at how one future candidate for the court disagreed with Supreme Court precedent and how he schemed either to get around that precedent or convince the court to do away with it altogether.
"It certainly won't derail the Alito nomination but it won't make it easier, either," said Cohen.
The argument before the justices Wednesday concerned the validity of a New Hampshire law that requires a parent to be told before a daughter ends her pregnancy — roughly the type of case that Alito was writing about two decades ago when he urged the administration to seek small victories in its legal battle against abortion.
While no ruling in the current case is expected for months, the case will provide the first indication of Chief Justice John Roberts' views on abortion cases, and possibly a last word from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She has been the swing vote in the past on rulings that upheld abortion rights, and Alito's nomination as her replacement has raised the stakes for his confirmation battle.
Even if Alito was confirmed and there was a vote regarding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court would still be one vote short of the necessary five to overturn the landmark ruling, reports CBS News analyst Jan Crawford Greenburg.
"But it does appear this newly constituted court would be more willing to allow regulations and limitations on the abortion right," she said.