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Alito Nomination Vote Put Off A Week

The Senate Judiciary Committee was planning to vote Tuesday on whether to confirm Judge Samuel Alito's nomination as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But late Monday, as had been expected, the voting got postponed.

Under the rules, any senator can force a delay in a vote for one week.

Alito opponents have been angling for as much time as possible to try to rally public opposition to the nomination.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he and Committee Chairman Arlen Specter discussed the timing of the vote over the holiday weekend and agreed to move it to Jan. 24th.

The new date, said Leahy in a statement, "allows all Senators, Republicans and Democrats, to conclude Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday events without having to rush back to Washington before the Senate returns to session ... This arrangement accommodates Republicans and Democrats."

Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to serve on the Supreme Court will be voted on by the Committee on Jan. 24 and the full Senate is to begin debate the following day.

Leahy says he has "assured Chairman Specter that no Democratic Senator" will ask for a second delay in the vote, and Specter, according to Leahy, does not expect any delays coming from the GOP.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., issued a statement Monday night saying he looked forward to a "fair up-or-down vote" swiftly on Alito, President Bush's choice to succeed retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Alito, 55, a federal appeals court judge, is assured of approval in the committee, where all 10 Republicans have indicated their support.

Prospects for confirmation in the full Senate are strong, as well.

So far, none of the Senate's 55 Republicans has announced opposition to Alito's nomination, meaning he can be confirmed with GOP votes alone, barring an increasingly unlikely Democratic filibuster.

Democrats have not yet ruled out mounting a filibuster to delay or prevent a final vote. But that appears increasingly unlikely in the wake of Alito's testimony at confirmation hearings last week, where he parried sharp Democratic attacks on his judicial record and personal credibility without a major stumble.

When the hearings concluded Friday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, had said he intended to schedule a committee vote for this week on the nomination.

Democrats said at the time that they intended to object, and they did, a move that Frist called "unjustified and desperate partisan obstructionism."

"This is a key swing vote on the Supreme Court and Democrats are not going to be rushed into anything," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

O'Connor has cast the decisive fifth vote on cases upholding the right to an abortion, affirming affirmative action and limiting the application of the death penalty.

Her position as the key swing vote heightened the political stakes for Alito's nomination, with conservatives hoping he will move the court to the right, and liberals fearful of the same thing.