Alito Denies Conflict In 2002 Case

Judge Samuel Alito smiles during a meeting with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005 in Washington, to discuss Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito said Thursday he was "unduly restrictive" in promising in 1990 to avoid appeals cases involving two investment firms and said he has not made any rulings in which he had a "legal or ethical obligation" to step aside.

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Alito said a 1990 questionnaire he filled out covered his plans for "initial service" as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"I respectfully submit that it was not inconsistent with my questionnaire response for me to participate in two isolated cases seven and 13 years later, respectively," he wrote.

Alito issued the letter one day after all eight Democrats on the committee called for voluminous records involving a 2002 case in which Vanguard was a defendant. They noted that Alito had promised at the time of his confirmation to the appeals court to avoid cases involving Vanguard, Smith Barney, a savings bank and his sister's law firm.

Democrats did not accuse Alito of bending his ruling to favor Vanguard. Instead, they raised possible conflict of interest concerns, and said he had violated the promise he made to the committee 15 years ago.

The Democratic challenge prompted a letter from Specter, R-Pa., in which he wrote Alito suggesting a quick response. "I think it is important that the issues be addressed promptly since a number of senators have expressed concerns," Specter advised.

Alito has been nominated to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose judicial rulings have made her the swing vote on the Supreme Court on issues such as abortion and affirmative action. The 55-year-old New Jersey native has won strong support from Senate Republicans, and elicited praise from several Democratic senators with whom he has met privately.

Confirmation hearings are scheduled for Jan. 9, and Wednesday's letter from Democrats on the panel marked their first organized challenge to his nomination.