On his final day of questioning, Alito defended his judicial record to skeptical Democrats and praised the justice he would replace — Sandra Day O'Connor.
"I would try to emulate her dedication and her integrity and her dedication to the case-by-case process of adjudication," Alito said.
In excusing Alito, Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, thanked him for his "remarkable patience and remarkable stamina" in enduring 18 hours of testimony and answering some 700 questions from panel members.
President Bush tapped Alito to replace O'Connor, who has provided a decisive vote on issues such as abortion, the death penalty and affirmative action. Democrats argue that Alito, in 15 years as an appellate judge, has built a conservative record that foretells a rightward direction if he is confirmed to the high court.
Republicans maintain a majority on the committee and control the Senate — 55-44 with one independent. GOP lawmakers have predicted that Alito will win the backing of the Senate later this month, and little has emerged in the hearings to undercut that assessment.
Democrats have not ruled out the possibility of a filibuster that could require supporters to post 60 votes in the 100-member chamber. But Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein has indicated a filibuster is unlikely and at least one conservative Democrat, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, is leaning toward backing Alito. Nelson said Thursday that he has seen nothing that would disqualify the nominee.
Democrats peppered Alito on Thursday about right-to-die cases, presidential authority and ethics on the fourth day of the hearings — and elicited no more personal observations on such issues than they had in previous sessions.
Alito did offer words of respect for the woman he would succeed.
"She has been known for her meticulous devotion to the facts of the particular cases that come before her and her belief that each case needs to be decided on its complex facts," Alito said.
Earlier, he told the panel that Americans have a right to designate family members or friends to carry out their right-to-die wishes, an issue pushed to the forefront last year by the case of a brain-damaged Florida woman.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, cited the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was at the center of a fierce fight between her husband and family over her fate that involved the courts, Congress and even the president.
Leahy asked: If a person has a living will, could he designate someone to decide whether to use extraordinary measures to keep him alive?
"Yes, that's, I think, an extension of the traditional right that I was talking about that existed under common law, and it's been developed by state legislatures and, in some instances, state courts to deal with the living will situation and advances ... in medical technology, which create new issues in this area," Alito said.
Congress, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother, President Bush, all sought to have the feeding tube reinserted. Schiavo died on March 31.
Specter opened Thursday's session by announcing that an examination of hundreds of documents from the founder of a controversial college alumni group found no mention of Alito.
The federal judge's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which discouraged the admission of women and minorities at the Ivy League school, has been a divisive issue at the hearings. Alito has repeatedly said he does not recall his membership in the group despite highlighting his involvement on a Reagan-era job application.
Specter said the panel's staff combed through four boxes of documents at the Library of Congress of William Rusher, a founder of CAP, "but Sam Alito's name is nowhere to be found in any of them."
The files caused a flare-up Wednesday between
On Thursday, Kennedy assailed Alito's judicial record and testimony, saying again that he was troubled by the judge's inability to recall his membership in the Princeton group.
"The average guy has a hard time in getting a fair shake in Judge Alito's courtroom," Kennedy said, in his summary of Alito's rulings.
Kennedy also pressed Alito on why he didn't disqualify himself from participating in a Vanguard case in 2002 despite his 1990 promise to the Senate to recuse himself in cases involving the mutual fund company.
Alito said it was an oversight and defended his statements to the committee.
"I have not given conflicting answers. I've been asked a number of different questions," he said.
Bristling at the Democratic focus on what he called "phony issues," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said, "I don't think you've been fairly treated and it makes everybody wonder, 'Why would anyone want to do these jobs?' "
On Wednesday, during a contentious third day of hearings that at one point left Alito's wife in tears, the federal appeals court judge remained unflappable under persistent questioning by Democrats who attacked his credibility.
"Many people will leave this hearing with a question as to whether or not you could be the deciding vote that would eliminate the legality of abortion," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said during Democrats' grilling the nominee about whether he now believes, as he did in 1985, that the Constitution contains no right to an abortion.
Alito refused to say.
"I don't think it's appropriate for me to speak about issues that could realistically come up" before the courts, he said, falling back on a line also used by now-Chief Justice John Roberts and other Supreme Court members during their confirmation hearings.
Unlike Roberts, who said at his lower court confirmation hearing in 2003 that he thought Roe v. Wade was "settled law," Alito said it was a precedent that should be respected. He would neither agree nor disagree that it was settled law when asked repeatedly by Durbin.