Bush Picks Alito for Supreme Court; Right Hails Choice, but Democrats See Threat

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President Bush yesterday nominated Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, delighting conservatives but enraging Democrats, who quickly labeled the veteran appeals court judge as a right-wing radical and a threat to the right to abortion.

Placating conservatives who torpedoed his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers, the president used his third opportunity in less than four months to select a bona fide conservative - a judge with three decades of legal experience.

The 55-year-old Yale- and Princeton-educated judge, who argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court as part of President Reagan's solicitor general's office and was appointed to the federal bench in 1990 by President George Bush, "has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years," Mr. Bush said yesterday morning.

"Judge Alito's reputation has only grown over the span of his service," Mr. Bush said from the White House, accompanied by Judge Alito. "He has a deep understanding of the proper role of judges in our society. He understands that judges are to interpret the laws, not to impose their preferences or priorities on the people."

Dubbed "Scalito" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy is similar to that of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Alito yesterday vowed to strictly interpret the Constitution if confirmed by the Senate.

"Federal judges have the duty to interpret the Constitution and the laws faithfully and fairly, to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans, and to do these things with care and with restraint, always keeping in mind the limited role that the courts play in our constitutional system," he said.

"I pledge that if confirmed I will do everything within my power to fulfill that responsibility."

Mr. Bush called for confirmation by the end of the year, but Senate leaders said the vote may be deferred until early next year.

Judge Alito would replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a swing vote in cases involving hot-button issues such as abortion, affirmative action, campaign finance and the death penalty.

The nomination sets up a fierce fight in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Democrats could filibuster, possibly prompting Republicans to deploy the "nuclear option" by voting to ban the procedural tactic for judicial nominees.

In addition, Democrats yesterday demanded the release of Alito documents dating to his days in the Reagan administration, which could ignite a firestorm if the White House refuses, as it has in previous cases.

The issue of abortion emerged quickly as the left and right drew battle lines. Democrats criticized Judge Alito's 1991 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which he was the lone dissenter when the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Pennsylvania law that, among other things, required women seeking abortions to inform their husbands.

The Supreme Court overturned the law.

Although senators likely will not directly ask Judge Alito, a Catholic, about his views on abortion, his mother, 90-year-old Rose Alito, told the Associated Press yesterday: "Of course, he's against abortion."

An hour before the 8 a.m. announcement, Democrats, pro-choice activists and liberal advocacy groups began bemoaning the nomination. …