WASHINGTON – A centrist Democratic senator complimented Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito (search) Wednesday as a moderate jurist who won't "hammer away and chisel away" existing law.
While Sen. Ben Nelson (search) did not endorse President Bush's latest nominee for the high court, he did say he was impressed by what he heard from Alito during his introductory visit.
The Nebraska Democrat, who was Alito's first senatorial host Wednesday, told reporters that he got assurances that Alito would not be "judicial activist" or "take an agenda to the bench" if confirmed to succeed Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring.
"He assured me that he wants to go to the bench without a political agenda," said Nelson, one of the founding members of the centrist "Gang of 14" (search) senators who earlier this year worked out a compact aimed at avoiding judicial filibusters except in the direst of circumstances.
Some liberals, pointing to Alito"s rulings as a federal appellate court judge on abortion, gun control, the death penalty and other issues have already raised the threat of a filibuster — an attempt to deny the 55-year-old lawyer a yes-or-no vote by the full Senate. Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate, and while confirmation requires a simple majority, it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.
Nelson, one of the 14 centrist senators that Democrats would need to sustain a filibuster, said that Alito "wants to decide each case as it comes before him."
Without the group's seven Republicans, Democrats would not be able to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., from abolishing judicial filibusters and confirming judges with a simple majority vote.
The Group of 14 is to meet Thursday to talk about Alito, who picked up an endorsement Wednesday from Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
"I look forward to enthusiastically supporting his nomination," said Hagel, one of several senators that Alito was scheduled to meet with during the day.
Democrats have been worried about how Alito would rule as the replacement for O'Connor, who has been a swing vote on such issues as abortion and affirmative action. He was nominated to replace White House counsel Harriet Miers, who withdrew last week after conservatives and anti-abortion groups refused to support her nomination and questioned whether she was qualified.
Republicans have said that Alito is more than qualified, pointing to his 15 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and his work as a government lawyer and prosecutor.