"A judge can't have any agenda. A judge can't have a preferred outcome in any particular case," Alito told the Judiciary Committee in a brief statement in which he made a distinction between judges and attorneys working for clients.
Alito, a conservative jurist on the federal appeals court, would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a decisive swing vote on abortion, affirmative action and death penalty cases. If confirmed,
Before speaking, Alito sat through opening statements by the 18 senators on the judiciary committee, with Democrats focusing heavily on the question of whether Alito would rein in presidential power, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss.
Alito then got his chance to speak and described his Italian immigrant father's background, his mother's work experience and his own academic career. He told the panel about his legal philosophy.
"The role of a practicing attorney is to achieve a desirable result for the client in the particular case at hand," Alito said. "But a judge can't think that way. A judge can't have any agenda, a judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case and a judge certainly doesn't have a client."
In his 11-minute statement, the judge gave no indication about how he might respond to the tough questions Democrats have promised on the divisive issues of executive power, abortion and the privacy rights.
Alito said his solemn obligation is to the rule of law and that a judge must do what the law requires.
"No person in this country, no matter how high or powerful, is above the law, and no person in this country is beneath the law," he said.
In a prelude to days of grilling, several committee Democrats expressed misgivings about Alito's 15 years of decisions and opinions as a judge on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and his writings during his tenure as a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department.
"Your record raises troubling questions about whether you appreciate the checks and balances in our Constitution — the careful efforts of our Founding Fathers to protect us from a government or a president determined to seize too much power over our lives," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
The hearings opened amid a growing debate over executive authority and Bush's secret decision to order the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans in the terror war.
"In an era when the White House is abusing power, is excusing and authorizing torture and is spying on American citizens, I find Judge Alito's support for an all-powerful executive branch to be genuinely troubling," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.