Alito Confirmation Hearings Planned for January; Delayed So Senate Can 'Do It Right,' Specter Says

Article excerpt

Byline: Charles Hurt, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Senate will not conduct Supreme Court confirmation hearings for federal Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. until next year, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter announced yesterday.

A final confirmation vote by the full Senate is scheduled tentatively for Jan. 20, making it the longest confirmation process since that of Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Mr. Specter's timetable envisions five days of hearings before the judiciary panel, starting Jan. 9, followed by a committee vote on Jan. 17.

"The White House wanted [Judge Alito's confirmation] before Christmas," Mr. Specter said yesterday. "It just couldn't be done. We have to do it right; we can't do it fast."

Although the White House had sought a faster schedule, spokesman Steve Schmidt said the administration had "great confidence in Chairman Specter to manage the extremely complicated process of moving a nominee to the Supreme Court through the U.S. Senate."

But based on comments yesterday by centrist Democrats, Judge Alito does not appear headed toward bitter hearings like Justice Thomas.

"He certainly got it off to a good start," Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, said yesterday after meeting with Judge Alito. Mr. Pryor is among the "Gang of 14" who can determine whether the "extraordinary circumstances" exist that warrant a filibuster against a nominee.

"I don't see any extraordinary circumstances," Mr. Pryor said. "I don't expect any. But then again, things can change rather quickly, and I'll continue to be looking for those."

That group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans who crafted a deal in May to break the Democratic filibusters against President Bush's appeals-court nominees met yesterday morning for the first time since Judge Alito's nomination on Monday.

"No, I don't see anything," Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and Gang of 14 member, said after the meeting. "Well, I see some things today that raise questions in my mind about opinions he's written, but they're questions."

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and group member, also met with Judge Alito yesterday.

"Overall, I was very impressed with his intellect, with respect to the powers of the branches of government, the law and the Constitution," he told reporters afterward. "He's certainly well-fitted in that regard for the Supreme Court. But I want to hear more; I want to read more."

Other Democrats say they do not need to hear any more to make up their minds. …