Alito Appears Headed For Confirmation

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito looks at papers about Vanguard Group as he is questioned by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., about avoiding conflicts of interest on the fourth day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006.
Samuel Alito coasted toward probable confirmation as the 110th Supreme Court justice Thursday, with the only question after 18 hours of grueling Senate interrogation being how many Democrats would support him.

Alito said nothing to undermine his solid support by the Senate's majority Republicans during three days of aggressive questioning by Democrats who challenged his credibility, judicial philosophy and independence. Within the hearing room,

, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.

"I am my own person, with whatever abilities I have and whatever limitations I have," Alito declared as he wrapped up his final public appearance before senators begin voting on his nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

If Alito is confirmed,

, legal analyst Jan Crawford Greenburg told CBS News.

"Justice O'Connor provided the critical fifth vote with liberals on key social issues like abortion, religion, affirmative action, and the death penalty," Greenburg said. "Alito's record suggests he sees those issues differently, and would change the direction the court."

Judiciary Committee senators will meet next Tuesday to begin debating the 55-year-old federal judge's nomination. Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., had wanted a committee vote then, but Democrats are expected to delay it for a week after that so they can discuss the nomination together first.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry "Reid is urging all Democrats to refrain from committing to a vote either for or against confirmation prior to the caucus next Wednesday," spokesman Jim Manley said.

Specter, who had wanted a committee vote next Tuesday, told reporters Thursday night that the date of a vote was up in the air. "It's been very hard to get a focus on that," he said.

Democrats want to give their caucus time to study the hearing transcripts, Manley said. Also to be considered is whether any reason exists to filibuster the nomination, but the chances of a filibuster happening appeared slim.

"I don't think he's going to get many votes from Democrats on the committee," Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat on the committee, said on CBS News' The Early Show. "As for a filibuster, it's something we'll have to discuss. So it's not on the table or off the table right now."

A delay is not likely to change Alito's support among the Senate's 55 Republicans. GOP senators, both on and off the committee, praised Alito as his testimony ended.

"I enthusiastically endorse and support Judge Alito's nomination," Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said Thursday. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., noted to the judge that his high school friends "predicted you would serve on the Supreme Court one day, and I think that's going to turn out to be a good prediction."

Chances of a nomination-crippling filibuster seemed to dim as the day went on, with two members of the "Gang of 14" — centrist senators who brokered a deal last year to avoid a filibuster showdown over judges — saying Alito's nomination does not deserve one.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, "does not believe that Judge Alito warrants a filibuster," spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said.