Democratic leader sounds warning on Alito nomination; promises ‘civility’

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday said he has “significant concerns” about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, calling President Bush’s latest choice one of the most conservative judges in the United States.

“A picture of Sam Alito is emerging that may explain why the extreme right-wing is popping champagne corks,” Reid, D-Nev., said in a Senate speech, referring to a 20-year-old document in which Alito asserted “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”

Abortion rights activists are concerned that Alito and recently confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts would move the Supreme Court to the right and perhaps overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights.

Alito touted his anti-abortion work in the solicitor general’s office in his application to be deputy assistant attorney general in 1985. That was work, the younger Alito said, “in which I personally believe very strongly.”

Alito, who has served on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the last 15 years, distanced himself from the document Tuesday. Democratic senators said that he assured them he would not act as an advocate on the court, but senators plan to question Alito closely on abortion at his Jan. 9 confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I will work to ensure that Judge Alito is treated with civility and respect,” Reid said. “But there is nothing disrespectful about an open and fair-minded review of a nominee’s approach to the Constitution and his commitment to core American values like equality, privacy and fairness.”

Bush nominated Alito last month as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been a crucial swing vote on contentious issues, including abortion, during her 24-year high court career.

Alito was Bush’s second choice after White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew under withering criticism from conservatives.

“Harriet Miers was forced to withdraw by conservative activists who want to change the legal landscape of America,” Reid said. “They decided she was inadequately radical or insufficiently aggressive for their purposes, so they gave her the boot.”

Reid also complained that Bush did not consult with Democrats about Alito’s appointment, saying he got a “a pro forma telephone call about an hour” before the Halloween nomination. He also said Bush passed up the chance to put another woman or the first Hispanic on the high court, instead choosing a white male.

“The appointment of Judge Alito largely fails to diversify the court,” Reid said.

As Reid and other Democrats planned a coordinated assault on the conservative judge from the Senate floor, Alito was continuing his third week of private meetings with Republican and Democratic senators.

Conservative Republicans have welcomed Alito’s nomination, with some senators, including Wayne Allard of Colorado and Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

already saying they will vote to confirm.

“I’m excited about defending and supporting this nominee, and am convinced he will be a great addition to the Supreme Court,” DeMint said Wednesday, with the judge sitting quietly at his side.