WASHINGTON – Liberal groups are planning a new effort against Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito after seeing some Senate Democrats virtually dismiss the possibility of a filibuster and praise the New Jersey jurist in the two weeks since his nomination.
"Next week, the press, the American people will begin to hear a very different story about his record, his experiences, some of the judgments he's made," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, an organization steering a coalition of groups on the left.
Alito's nomination to the top court has been steadily picking up steam in the Senate since President Bush announced his choice last week.
Senators from both parties have praised the conservative judge's intellect and credentials, although Democrats have not endorsed his nomination to replace the moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was a swing vote on issues like abortion and affirmative action.
"You can't ignore that there's an abundance of talent in this individual," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who met with Alito on Thursday.
Alito has met with more than 40 senators in the two weeks since Bush nominated him to replace failed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, who withdrew after being criticized by conservatives for not having a clear conservative paper trail or judicial philosophy.
Alito, meanwhile, has received nothing but praise from Republicans. "I feel very, very comfortable with what I've learned about him as a person," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
And several moderate Democrats have indicated they won't support a partisan filibuster. "I think it is unlikely, absent some new information, some bombshell that comes up in the process, that I would support a filibuster," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said after meeting Alito on Wednesday.
Aron said nominees normally get a honeymoon period from the Senate during which they garner praise, but she expects a turnaround after a "major educational process" next week.
Liberals had been afraid that if one of Bush's Supreme Court nominations failed, she said, the White House would nominate someone like U.S. Appeals Court Judges Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen or William Pryor or Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada, who were filibustered by Senate Democrats.
"It's now clear given the context of this nomination there is no one worse," Aron said. "This nominee, who has anchored the extremist position on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is someone whose ideology does present a real problem and real questions."
Aron's effort follows Senate Democrats' first coordinated challenge to Alito's nomination on Wednesday, raising conflict-of-issue concerns because of the judge's participation in a 2002 case involving a mutual fund company with which he had a six-figure investment.
Alito promised senators in 1990 — when he was nominated to the 3rd Circuit Court seat — that he would "disqualify myself from any cases involving the Vanguard companies." But he participated in that 2002 case where a three-judge panel on which he served dismissed an appeal of a lower court ruling favorable to the Vanguard Group.
He reported holdings of about $80,000 in Vanguard funds in 1990, and news articles around the time of the 2002 case placed his investment at $390,000 or above.
Alito wrote to the chief judge saying he did not believe he was required to disqualify himself on the basis of ownership of shares in a mutual fund. At the same time, he voluntarily recused himself from a decision on whether to wipe out the original ruling. He did not mention the pledge he had made to the Senate.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called Thursday for Alito to respond quickly to the Vanguard matter to keep it from becoming a major issue — even though Specter told Alito he thinks "there has been no impropriety on your part."
"In Supreme Court nominations which are so important for so many reasons, we have seen issues which may be minor, unmeritorious and even nonexistent, proliferate into major controversies by those who are opposed for other reasons," Specter said in a letter to Alito.