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."
On the Republican side,
"Some precedents are undeserving of respect," he told Alito.
Leahy listed several concerns, among them Alito's comments on the principle of one-man, one-vote and his inability to recall details about his membership — which he listed on a Reagan administration job application — in a conservative organization that opposed the admission of women and minorities at Princeton University, Alito's alma mater.
Democrats also voiced concern about Alito's answers concerning whether he told the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that he should not be hearing cases involving investment company Vanguard. He holds six-figure investments with Vanguard.
Alito promised the Judiciary Committee at his 1990 confirmation hearing as an appellate judge that he would remove himself from cases that presented a conflict of interest. He said his participation in a 2002 Vanguard case was an oversight, although he also said he didn't do anything wrong. The American Bar Association and his supporters have accepted that explanation.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., suggested that Alito had added another interpretation as to why he did not recuse himself in the Vanguard case. At issue was whether Alito would avoid any conflict of interest during an "initial period of service" as a judge.
Kennedy pressed him on whether that amounted to three years, five years. Alito's participation in the case occurred 12 years into his service.
Alito said he has tried to go beyond the code of ethics, and he maintained that his failure to recuse himself from the case was an oversight.
Alito again said he had no recollection of membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, the conservative group that he listed on a job application.
"If I had been involved actively in any way in the group, I'm sure that I would remember," Alito said.
The questions about CAP led to a testy exchange between Kennedy and Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Last month, Kennedy sent a letter to Specter seeking a committee subpoena for private documents of William A. Rusher, a founder of the group, that Kennedy said might shed light on Alito's membership.
"I will not have you run this committee," said Specter, who brushed aside Kennedy's threats.
Alito would replace O'Connor, the swing vote on issues such as abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty during her 25 years on the court.
Republicans complained that Democrats had already made up their minds about Alito.
"I do think that there are those who have already decided to vote against your nomination and are looking for some reason to do so," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "And I think one of the reasons that they may claim is that you've been nonresponsive." Cornyn said he saw nothing to derail Alito's confirmation.
Democrats sought to elicit Alito's personal views on a wide range of issues, from executive authority to Supreme Court decisions on terror cases during wartime. The judge often sidestepped such questions and instead provided chapter-and-verse of what the justices had written or else cited constitutional law. Alito did not stake out any new or controversial positions.