In their first coordinated challenge to Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, the eight Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday sent a letter to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying Alito had promised the panel in 1990 he would "disqualify myself from any cases involving the Vanguard companies."
The letter requests the original opinion in the 2002 case, which was unpublished. It also seeks any communication "from or to the White House, the Justice Department ... or anyone else on their behalf" concerning Alito's decision to participate in the case, in which a three-judge panel ruled on behalf of Vanguard and other investment firms. The companies had been sued by a widow who claimed she was denied funds originally belonging to her deceased husband.
The White House, saying Alito has acted ethically throughout his career, dismissed the suggestion that there was something wrong in this case. "Judge Alito looks forward to answering any questions that committee members may ask him at the hearing about this issue," said Steven Schmidt, an administration spokesman.
Apart from the written requests, several Democrats who have met privately with Alito in recent days told reporters they had raised conflict-of-issue concerns. "I asked him a lot of questions about Vanguard and there are going to be more," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.
In a separate development, The Boston Globe reports that in 1995 Alito reviewed an appeals case in which his sister's law firm represented one of the sides, despite a pledge to the Senate that he would recuse himself from cases involving her firm.
Rosemary Alito confirmed in a telephone interview with the Globe that her law firm handled the case, which involved repayment of a bank loan, but said she was "absolutely not" personally involved in it. She had no further comment.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Judge Alito "does not have recollection of this case."
The Globe said it's at least the third instance in which Alito apparently did not disqualify himself from a case in which he faced a potential conflict of interest, despite promising the Senate during his confirmation hearings as an appeals court judge that he would avoid such cases.
The issues come at a time when Alito appears to be gaining ground steadily in his confirmation campaign for the seat held by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, with Democratic critics struggling to slow his momentum.
Conservative senators whose silence helped torpedo Harriet Miers' appointment earlier this fall have rallied to Alito's side. Some Democrats have said they do not expect a filibuster — angering others in the party who want to preserve their right to try and deny Alito a yes-or-no vote when his nomination reaches the full Senate.