Bracing For Battle Over Court Pick

Judge Samuel A. Alito of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia speaks after President Bush announced him as his new nominee for the Supreme Court, Monday, Oct. 31, 2005, in Cross Hall in the White House. Alito is Bush's replacement for Harriet Miers who dropped out of the running last week. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
CBS
While Democrats galvanize their political forces, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito returns to Capitol Hill Tuesday to meet with the key players. President Bush nominated veteran judge Alito for the Supreme Court Monday, seeking to shift the judiciary to the right and mollify conservatives who derailed his previous pick.

But ready-to-rumble Democrats said Alito may curb abortion rights and be "too radical for the American people."

Drawing an unspoken contrast to failed nominee Harriet Miers, Mr. Bush declared that the appeals court judge "has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years."

When he nominated Harriet Miers, Mr. Bush made a virtue of her lack of judicial experience, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts. He called her "The Best Person For The Job." But damage control dictated that this time he choose someone well-established in the so-called "judicial monastery."

Abortion emerged as a potential fault line. Democrats pointed to Alito's rulings that sought to restrict a woman's right to abortion. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Republican who supports abortion rights, said that Alito's views on the hot-button issue "will be among one of the first items Judge Alito and I will discuss."

Alito's mother shed some light. "Of course, he's against abortion," 90-year-old Rose Alito said of her son, a Catholic.

Alito, 55, newly installed Chief Justice John Roberts, 50, and the more than 200 other federal judges Mr. Bush has pushed through the Senate could give the Republican president a legacy far beyond his two terms.

In a political twist, Republicans who helped sink Miers' nomination rallied to Alito's side. A leading Democrat who backed Miers led the attack against Alito.

"The Senate needs to find out if the man replacing Miers is too radical for the American people," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. A rare Democratic senator who opposes abortion, Reid chided Mr. Bush for not nominating the first Hispanic to the court.

"President Bush would leave the Supreme Court looking less like America and more like an old boys club," Reid said.

So consistently conservative, Alito has been dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But while Scalia is outspoken and is known to badger lawyers, Alito is polite, reserved and even-tempered.

"If you are looking to the radar screen for signs of dark skies and bluster ahead, the Alito nomination is simply the perfect storm. A looming Category 5, nasty, spitting, roiling, barking dogfight," CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said.

Some argue that outside interest groups want the hearings to get ugly, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger. In to a recent interview, Judge Robert Bork — who lost his own fight to go to the Supreme Court in 1987 — blames these groups for ruining both congress and the court itself.

Given solid Republican support in the Senate — where the GOP controls 55 of the 100 seats — Democrats would have to filibuster to block Alito's confirmation, a tactic that comes with political risks. Alito also enjoys the early support of conservative activists who used their sway in the Bush White House to derail Miers' nominations.

The fight to nominate Alito, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 1990, is one step in Mr. Bush's political recovery plan as he tries to regain his footing after a cascade of troubles — including the Iraq war and the indictment of the vice president's chief of staff — rocked his presidency.

If confirmed by the Senate, Alito would replace retiring justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a decisive swing vote in cases involving affirmative action, abortion, campaign finance, discrimination and the death penalty.

"The Supreme Court is an institution I have long held in reverence," said the bespectacled Alito, a former prosecutor and government attorney who has argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, losing just two. "During my 29 years as a public servant, I've had an opportunity to view the Supreme Court from a variety of perspectives."