Alito Poised For Confirmation

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's likelihood for confirmation to the highest U.S. court seems to improve each day, but Democrats confirmed Friday they will make a last-ditch attempt to slow his momentum by delaying the first vote on his candidacy.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said in the waning minutes of Alito's confirmation hearing that unnamed Democrats will "exercise their rights" to put off next week's scheduled Alito vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That vote would have been the Republicans' first chance to officially endorse President George W. Bush's pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O' Connor. All 10 Republican Judiciary Committee members already have announced their support for Alito, a 55-year-old federal appeals judge, former federal prosecutor and Reagan administration lawyer.

CBSNews.com legal analyst Andrew Cohen says he doesn't see many obstacles for Alito.

"Clearly, he didn't say anything embarrassing or controversial or stupid that would have harmed his chances," Cohen said. "And I think the losers in the week have to be these Senate Judiciary Committee members who had this precious time … and instead used their time to make political speeches that, really, very few people listened to."

The White House heaped praise on Alito Friday, with spokesman Scott McClellan saying the proceedings showed Americans a man who's "brilliant, honorable and decent, open-minded and fair."

But Democrats, who have eight votes on the committee, say they won't be ready to vote on his nomination on Tuesday, with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid having called on his senators to hold off making a decision until a Wednesday meeting.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's vote is scheduled for Tuesday, but CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports that, under committee rules, any member can delay the vote for a week, "so we now assume that the committee vote will come Tuesday, Jan 24."

"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 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."

The federal government is closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, named for the slain civil rights leader.

"A number of our members are going to be home for Martin Luther King events this weekend, will not be back on time on Tuesday and so they will exercise their rights" to delay the vote, Leahy said.


Sen. John Cornyn, a Judiciary Committee member, said "a delay for delay's sake would be a petty, partisan move."

Most — if not all — of the Senate's 55 Republicans are expected to line up behind Alito.

Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter predicted that all eight of the committee Democrats would vote against Alito, whenever the vote is held. But on the final Senate vote, "I think there will be a little deviation," he said.

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 Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on The Early Show.

The 44 Senate Democrats have been mostly silent about their intentions, although committee senators like Edward Kennedy and Charles Schumer have indicated they will oppose Alito's confirmation.

Their liberal supporters plan to work senators hard before the final vote to ensure as many of them as possible vote against Alito, who they say will likely to swing the court to the right in replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has provided decisive votes on such important issues as abortion, capital punishment and affirmative action for minorities that come before the court.

During the hearing, 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. They also highlighted his membership in an organization that discouraged the admission of women and minorities at Princeton University.

"In what he said and what he failed to say, Alito confirmed our worst fears about the kind of Supreme Court justice he would be," said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

But Democrats' chances of stopping Alito seem to get slimmer each day. The only way they can block his nomination is through a filibuster, and they would need Republican help to keep Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., from banning the tactic.

But five of the seven Republican members of the "Gang of 14" – centrist senators who defused a Senate showdown over judicial filibusters last year by saying "extraordinary circumstances" would be needed -- already have said they will not help Democrats if they attempt to filibuster Alito's confirmation.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, both Judiciary Committee members, made that commitment before the confirmation began, and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, agreed Thursday that a filibuster would not be justified.

On Friday, two other GOP "Gang" members jumped in. Sen. Susan Collins "does not see a justification for and would not support a filibuster," spokeswoman Jen Burita said. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., "has said he has not seen any extraordinary circumstances," spokesman Stephen Hourahan said.

The last two – GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Warner of Virginia – have not commented, but one of the Democratic members of the "Gang" has.

"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," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.