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U.S. Supreme Court

As debate starts, GOP celebrates Alito's near-certain victory

Associated Press
Published January 26, 2006

WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito took a victory lap in the Senate on Wednesday, accepting congratulations from Republican leaders as lawmakers moved toward confirming him in a largely party-line vote.

A few hours after the final confirmation debate began, Alito met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter in a U.S. Capitol room that directly faces the neighboring Supreme Court.

Alito shook their hands and joked with the Republican leaders and thanked them for their efforts as senators debated his nomination on the Senate floor. Alito, who had met privately with more than 80 senators since his October nomination, thanked "all of the senators who supported me and were kind enough to meet with me."

The New Jersey jurist was chosen by President Bush to be the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"I call on the United States Senate to put partisanship aside and give Judge Alito the up-or-down vote he deserves," Bush said at the White House, "and confirm him as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court."

Alito has enough support to assure his confirmation, with 51 Republicans and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska already committing to vote for him.

With Senate Democrats unlikely to use a filibuster to block Alito's confirmation, the 100-member Senate is expected to make it official before Bush's State of the Union on Jan. 31.

"We're on the final leg," Frist, R-Tenn., told Alito before congratulating the 55-year-old from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Judiciary Committee advanced Alito's nomination Tuesday on a party-line vote, with all the Republicans voting for him and all the Democrats voting against him.

The closest vote margin for a Supreme Court justice in modern history is Justice Clarence Thomas' 52-48 victory in 1991. In that vote, 11 Democrats broke with their party and voted for former President George Bush's nominee.

The Democratic caucus split on Chief Justice John Roberts, 22 voting for him and 22 against.

Twenty-two Democrats already have announced they are voting against Alito.

Four Republicans, 21 Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont were still publicly undecided Wednesday or had yet to say how they would vote on Alito's nomination. Democrats Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Patty Murray of Washington met with Alito on Wednesday but did not say how they would vote.

[Last modified January 26, 2006, 01:02:16]

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