Supreme Court nominee reveals little during confirmation hearing about how he would vote on gay issues if confirmed
WASHINGTON Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court will be voted on by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 24, according to Senate leaders.
The full Senate is expected to begin debate the following day.
Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader, 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 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.
The nation’s largest GLBT rights groups announced their opposition to Alito’s appointment on Dec. 23. The Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays joined together to oppose Alito.
The groups claimed in a joint statement that Alito’s professional and judicial records indicate that the individual and equal protection rights of GLBT people would be in jeopardy if he is confirmed.
“Judge Alito’s appointment would spell disaster for LGBT Americans for decades to come,” Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said at the time.
Foreman claimed Alito’s record indicates “open and declared hostility” to reproductive rights, the power of Congress to protect all Americans, the values of diversity and to appropriate constraints on official and public space religious expression.”
During the confirmation hearing, Alito said that gay marriage issues are likely to be decided in the federal courts. He made no comment on how he would rule.
Senator Edward Kennedy criticized Alito for his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton.
Kennedy noted that a 1984 issue of the organization’s magazine, Prospect, suggested conducting experiments on members of the Princeton Gay Alliance to find out more about the AIDS virus in monkeys.
“I know that we’ve come a long way since then in our understanding of the disease, but even for that time, the insensitivity of statements in this article is breathtaking,” Kennedy said.
Alito said that he was not an active member of the group, and he condemned the article as “deplorable.”
Democrats have not yet ruled out mounting a filibuster to delay or prevent a final vote on Alito. But that appears increasingly unlikely in the wake of Alito’s testimony at his confirmation hearing last week, where he parried sharp Democratic attacks on his judicial record and personal credibility without a major stumble.
When the hearings concluded Friday, Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican of Pennsylvania, 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.”
Under the rules, any senator can force a delay in a vote for one week.
Democrats said they wanted to give senators time to observe a three-day holiday weekend without coming back to face an immediate vote. At the same time, they came under pressure from outside interest groups that want as much time as possible to try to rally public opposition to the nomination.
“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 Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader.
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.
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.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 20, 2006.