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Senators focus on abortion, presidential power

WASHINGTON—Before voting 10-8 to send Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito to the Senate floor for confirmation, senators offered various reasons for justifying their votes, but abortion and presidential power were their main preoccupations:

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: "We have seen the rule that there is no rule as to how nominees will act once they're on the court. When Justice (David) Souter was up, the National Organization of Women flooded Capitol Hill with a rally: `Stop Souter or women will die.'...Justice (Anthony) Kennedy and Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor spoke in very, very strong terms against abortion rights before they came to the court, and we know that Souter and Kennedy and O'Connor wrote the joint opinion in Casey v. Planned Parenthood and have been staunchly in favor of a woman's right to choose."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.: "A central question during the hearings on this nomination was whether Judge Alito would serve as an effective constitutional check on the presidency. We have a president who is prone to unilateralism and assertions of executive power that extend all the way to illegal spying on Americans. Preventing government intrusion into the privacy and freedoms of Americans is one of the hallmarks of the Supreme Court. There is no assurance that Judge Alito will serve as an effective check and balance on government intrusion into the lives of Americans."

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.: "Judge Alito lacks the understanding, in my view, as to how prejudice plays out in the real world and has a very restrictive view of the anti-discrimination legislation that Congress has passed over the last 30 years. ... All public officials including judges, in my view, must understand prejudice still lurks in the shadows. And my examination of Justice Alito's record demonstrates to me that he does not look into the shadows."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: "If one is pro-choice, in this day and age, in this structure, one can't vote for Judge Alito. It is simply that simple. I am very concerned about the impact he would have on women's rights, including a woman's right to make certain reproductive choices, as limited by state regulation in many cases. ... I (asked) what he meant when he said, in response to a question, `Precedent is not an inexorable command.' Now, what's interesting about that is that's exactly the language Justice (William) Rehnquist used, arguing to overturn Roe. So that spoke volumes to me. That said that Judge Alito probably would not uphold Roe, given the chance."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: "To my friend, Senator Feinstein, from a pro-life point of view, Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg replaced a vote on Roe v. Wade.... Every Democratic nominee that I can remember has openly campaigned on the idea that, `If I get to make a Supreme Court choice, I will make sure it will be a judge who will honor Roe v. Wade.' There is no hiding that. ... But (Justice Stephen) Breyer and Ginsburg got 96 votes and got 89 votes. I really do worry that we're going to take the Supreme Court nominating process and boil it down to abortion. And that won't be good for the country, but that's definitely the direction we're headed. "

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.: "Samuel Alito says no person in this country is above the law, and that includes the president, includes the Supreme Court. Everybody has to follow the law, and that means the Constitution of the United States and it means the laws that are enacted under the Constitution of the United States. That's Samuel Alito, January 10, 2006. What does John Roberts say about it? `I believe that no one is above the law under our system, and that includes the president. The president is fully bound by the law, the Constitution and the statutes.' Executive powers: They answered the same way and, I believe, will act the same way in limiting and appropriately deciding cases."

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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