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Alito Filibuster Try Lacks Support

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito enjoys sufficient bipartisan support to surmount any Senate filibuster attempt by minority Democrats, Senate leaders said Friday.

A final vote making the New Jersey jurist the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice is scheduled for Tuesday, hours before President Bush gives his State of the Union address to Congress and the nation.

Acknowledging he's facing an "uphill battle," Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is nonetheless asking Senate colleagues to join him in a filibuster to stop the Alito nomination, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports.

But Democrats and Republicans alike said the 55-year-old conservative jurist will get more than the 60 votes need to cut off debate on the Senate floor Monday.

"Everyone knows there are not enough votes to support a filibuster," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Friday. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the same thing on Thursday. "A bipartisan majority will vote to confirm Judge Alito as Justice Alito," Frist said.

Alito's supporters already have those commitments, with 53 of the Republicans' 55-member majority and three Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska already publicly supporting his confirmation as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., also announced Friday he is "leaning in favor of voting for" the conservative judge. "It is clear to me that a majority of the American people and the people I represent support his confirmation," he said after meeting with Alito in his office.

Senior Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska also threw his support to Alito. Stevens said he closely monitored Alito's commitment during his confirmation hearings to "respect" past rulings when it comes to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark abortion rights decision.

"As I vote to confirm his nomination, I do so under the assumption that Judge Alito will uphold this commitment," said Stevens, who supports abortion rights.

Reid, who will vote on Monday with Democrats who want to filibuster Alito and against confirmation on Tuesday, said those votes are "an opportunity to people to express their opinion on what a bad choice it was to replace Sandra Day O'Connor."

As the floor debate ensued Friday, the leaders of the filibuster attempt – Kerry and fellow Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy – were trying to drum up support in their caucus for blocking Alito.

They were counting senators like Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Debbie Stabenow on their side. Other senators, including ranking Judiciary Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Charles Schumer of New York, head of the Senate Democrats' fundraising arm, did not say Thursday whether they supported the effort.

"There's some division in our caucus," Kennedy conceded. "It's an uphill climb at the current time, but it's achievable."

Sen. Joe Biden, who plans to vote against Alito, says a move to block Alito isn't likely to happen.

"I think we should make statements as to why, in my case, why I think Judge Alito should not go on the bench," Biden, D-Del., told CBS News' The Early Show.

"He gives much too much power to the presidency, thinks the president can go to war without the consent of Congress. But a filibuster, I think, is not likely to occur. But who knows, one man can generate a filibuster."

Many Democrats contended that Alito's confirmation would put individual rights and liberties in danger. The former federal prosecutor and lawyer for the Reagan administration would replace O'Connor, the court's first female justice and the swing vote on several 5-4 rulings that maintained abortion rights, preserved affirmative action and limited the application of the death penalty.

"The president has every right to nominate Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court," Kerry said. "It's our right and our responsibility to oppose him vigorously and to fight against this radical upending of the Supreme Court."

Asked if the administration was taking Kerry's call for a filibuster seriously, White House press secretary Scott McClellan chuckled on Friday and said: "I think it was a historic day yesterday. It was the first ever call for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland."

Republicans immediately began criticizing Democrats for even considering a filibuster.

"Continuing to threaten a filibuster, even after it is crystal clear that Democrats don't have the necessary votes to sustain their obstruction, is needless, strange and at odds with many of their fellow Democrats," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Mr. Bush urged the Senate to go ahead and put the 55-year-old judge from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the Supreme Court.

Alito "understands the role of a judge is not to advance a personal and political agenda," the president said Thursday at the White House. "He is a decent man. He's got a lot of experience and he deserves an up-or-down vote in the Senate."