On the third day of confirmation hearings, Democrats also expressed frustration as Alito described the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion as "an important precedent" but declined to echo Chief Justice John Roberts, who has called it settled law.
Pressed on using the description "settled," Alito said during afternoon testimony, "It would be wrong for me to say to anybody who might be bringing any case before my court ... 'Go away, I've made up my mind.' That's the antithesis of what courts are supposed to do. And if that's what settled means, I think that is not what judges are supposed to do."
While Alito remained calm, his wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, left the hearing room in tears near the end of a day in which he had been questioned sharply. The picture of her crying may be the one people remember from these hearings, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.
Republicans on the panel dismissed the criticism and defended Alito, President Bush's choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, as a conservative jurist with a solid 15-year record on the federal appeals court.
"Your critics are grasping at any straw to tarnish your record," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said Alito "is coming across as exactly who and what he is: A calm and thoughtful judge who has a conservative view of the law and of the art of judging. Now, if the Democrats controlled the Senate, that might be a problem for Judge Alito but, since they don't, it isn't. I think he's in very good shape."
"I don't think he's pretending to be anything that he isn't,"
Vice President Dick Cheney accused liberal groups of trying to undermine the nomination but faltering.
"What I see happening now, unfortunately, is some of the groups on the other side trying hard to find some way to shoot him down. And so far I don't think they've been successful at doing that," Cheney said in an interview on the Tony Snow show on Fox News Radio.
Republicans hold the majority in the Senate — 55-44 with one independent — and Alito is expected to win confirmation to the high court when the Senate votes later this month. The Democrats' only hope of scuttling the nomination rests with defections among the GOP ranks and solid opposition among its own members.
"A number of us have been troubled by what we see as inconsistencies in some of the answers," Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, the panel's ranking Democrat, told Alito.
Chief Justice Roberts described Roe v. Wade, the 1973 abortion ruling, as settled law at his confirmation hearings in 2003 for the appeals court and "settled as precedent" in testimony at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last year. Alito said the ruling "is an important precedent of the Supreme Court," but he declined Durbin's repeated prodding to use the term "settled law."