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Alito Hearings In Homestretch

Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court is gliding toward confirmation despite a week of hearings in which Democrats tried and failed to hobble his prospects with withering questions on abortion, presidential power and ethics.

President Bush called Alito after the hearings to congratulate him on doing a "great job" and told him he "showed great class," reports CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras.

Friday will be the fifth and final day of hearings and the committee will hear from the last of the outside witnesses, some called by Republicans to praise Alito and those chosen by Democrats to criticize him, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss.

Democrats argue that the former Reagan administration lawyer is likely to tip the court's balance to the right in replacing centrist Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But with little success so far peeling votes from Alito's confirmation as the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice, Democrats showed not much appetite for mounting a filibuster on the Senate floor.

Instead, they are seeking to slow Alito's ascension by demanding that the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., delay the panel's vote a week.

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," Reid 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."

Any delay would do little to whittle support for Alito's confirmation.

GOP senators, both on and off the committee, praised Alito, who has been a federal appeals court judge for the past 15 years, as his testimony ended Thursday.

"He has an incredible knowledge, a very good judicial temperament and you'll see him carefully weigh and consider each case," said Kansas Republican Sam Brownback on The Early Show.

"I enthusiastically endorse and support Judge Alito's nomination," Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said. 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."

A Democratic senator issued positive comment as well. "So far I have seen nothing during my interview with the nominee, the background materials that have been produced or through the committee process that I would consider a disqualifying issue against Judge Alito," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said.

Other senior Democrats have not said how they would vote, including three Judiciary Committee members who voted for Chief Justice John Roberts last fall: ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Wisconsin Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.

Democrats face an uphill battle in finding enough votes to filibuster Alito's nomination — the only way they can stop him. It takes 41 votes to sustain a filibuster, and there are 44 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent in the Senate.

Several committee Democrats made it clear they were not inclined to vote for Alito, including Schumer and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

After four days of hearings, there are "even more questions about Judge Alito's commitment to the fairness and equality for all," Kennedy said.

The nominee refused to declare whether he would hold O'Connor's moderate position on the court.

"I'd be the same sort of justice in the Supreme Court as I've been a judge on the Court of Appeals. I am my own person with whatever limitations I have," Alito said.

"That should be a signal to everyone that he is a reliably conservative vote in the mode of a Justice Thomas or a Justice Scalia once he gets there," says Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "Now, that may be disturbing to some people but that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. That's what the president promised when he was elected last November."

The Democrats repeatedly attacked Alito's decisions as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and his writings while a lawyer for the Reagan administration — including a 1985 statement saying the Constitution did not protect the right to an abortion — and they highlighted his membership in an alumni organization that discouraged the admission of women and minorities at Princeton University.

"The evidence before us makes it hard for us to vote yes," said Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Schumer's vote is not likely to make a difference in the outcome, Alito's confirmation.

"He did what he had to do. He didn't say anything stupid. He didn't say anything unreasonable. He stuck to his guns, he didn't appear offensive or defensive or argumentative," says Cohen.

Democrats on Thursday made no progress eliciting information more damaging or even personal than Alito's previous comments, despite peppering him on right-to-die cases, affirmative action, presidential power and ethics.

They also objected to a panel of Alito's colleagues on the Court of Appeals, saying that the judicial code of ethics advises against judges presenting character testimony. They said Alito would be faced with a conflict of interest after receiving the judges' endorsements if decisions by those judges ever end up before the Supreme Court. Leahy declined to question the panel in protest.

For their parts, the seven judges — several of whom are Democrats — told senators that Alito would make an independent and ethical Supreme Court justice.