CBSN

Alito Clears Senate Hurdle

U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Samuel Alito, smiles as he listens to questions during the third day of his confirmation hearings January 11, 2006 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Getty Images/Joe Raedle
In a party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday favorably recommended Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate, where he was expected to be confirmed to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

All 10 committee Republicans voted for Alito and all eight Democrats voted against him. The partisan vote was almost preordained, with 15 of the 18 senators announcing their votes even before the committee's session began.

The full Senate is expected to vote on Alito's nomination before the end of the week. That vote is also likely to follow along party lines, with only one Democrat — Ben Nelson of Nebraska — coming out so far in support of Alito. Republicans hold the balance of power in the Senate 55-44, with one independent.

The Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee not only voted differently, they seemed to be in two completely different debates, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports.

Republicans talked about Alito's qualifications and how judges shouldn't be judged by their views. Democrats ignored qualifications and said this nominee was picked for his views and they oppose him because they fear he will sharply move the Supreme Court to the right – against civil liberties, civil rights and a woman's right to have an abortion.

"He still believes that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion, but does not want to tell the American people because he knows how unpopular that view is," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Republican Orrin Hatch had a much different view.

"Like America's founders, Judge Alito clearly believes in self-government, that the people and not judges should make law, and that judges have an important role but must know and stay in their proper place," said Hatch, R-Utah.

After the vote, the White House criticized Democratic tactics.

"Democrats have repeatedly twisted and distorted Judge Alito's positions to the point where they are unrecognizable," said spokesman Stephen Schmidt. "Democrats' relentless politicization of a process that has traditionally been above partisan politics is disappointing."

Even with the party line vote, Democrats are not expected to filibuster Alito's nomination. The Senate will begin final debate on Wednesday, and Republicans hope to get a final vote by Friday.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts won the votes of 22 Democrats last year — including three in committee — ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont as well as Wisconsin Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl.

Those three senators voted against Alito Tuesday.

"This is a nomination that I fear threatens the fundamental rights and liberties of all Americans now in for generations to come," Leahy said of the Alito nomination.