Senate Democrats plan to delay the Judiciary Committee's vote on Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court for at least a week, slowing what could have been a quick confirmation process for President Bush's pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
However, Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, said there would be no delay.
"No decision has been made regarding a Senate Judiciary Committee rule that permits any committee member to request a one-week postponement of a committee vote," Manley said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter had hoped to hold a committee vote on Alito's nomination on Jan. 17, a little over a week from the Monday start of the federal appellate judge's confirmation hearings.
Democrats haven't completely given up the notion of filibustering Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, though they're certainly not talking about it before his confirmation hearings.
A slip of the tongue, an intractable attitude or a dramatic revelation next week could still bring another Senate showdown.
"I don't think anybody today sees a reason for a filibuster, but they may after the hearing if the answers are troubling to them or they feel they haven't gotten the answers to important questions," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.
Alito, a longtime conservative lawyer and judge, will face the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for his confirmation hearings to become the 110th Supreme Court justice, replacing retiring Sandra Day O'Connor.
The Senate's majority Republicans are pushing for a final confirmation vote Jan. 20 — if Democrats don't filibuster his nomination.
Democrats, the Senate's minority party, contend Alito is too conservative and could undermine some rights if confirmed. Some of their liberal supporters have urged Democrats to do whatever they can to block the nomination, including a filibuster.
It takes 41 votes to sustain a filibuster. With the Senate split with 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one Democratic-voting independent, Democrats could launch an Alito filibuster on their own without a single Republican vote.
But Democrats have said repeatedly they aren't planning to filibuster Alito, although they also have refused to promise to refrain from the stalling tactic on the federal appellate judge.
"I don't think it's wise for members to try and outline a strategy other than to make sure these hearings are comprehensive and they're done with dignity and respect for the nominee," said Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, one of the Senate's leading liberals. "The future will take care of itself."
The final decision will be made after the hearings, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and one of the senators who will question Alito.
"If he's a mainstream conservative, if he doesn't use a court to impose his views on the American people, he's likely to get approved. Some people may vote against him because they don't want someone that conservative on the court," Schumer said. But at the same time, Schumer added, "If he is out of the mainstream and will use his tremendously powerful position as Supreme Court judge to impose his views on the American people, then there's a potential for a filibuster, and no one really knows that until the hearings."
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