WASHINGTON – A Democrat who plans to vote against Samuel Alito sided on Sunday with a Republican colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee in cautioning against a filibuster of the Supreme Court nominee.
"I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "This might be a man I disagree with, but it doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the court."
She said she will not vote to confirm the appeals court judge, based on his conservative record. But she acknowledged that nothing emerged during last week's hearings to justify any organized action by Democrats to stall the nomination.
"If there's a filibuster of this man based on his qualifications, there would be a huge backlash in this country," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. He is one of 14 centrist senators who defused the Senate's showdown over judicial filibusters last year, saying such a tactic is justified only under extraordinary circumstances.
The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said last week that unidentified Democrats will "exercise their rights" to delay a committee vote that Republicans sought for Tuesday.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has called on party members to hold off making a decision until after a meeting Wednesday.
Sen. Charles Schumer D-N.Y., would not rule out a filibuster, saying committee Democrats were still going through the hearing transcripts and awaiting answers to written questions.
"It's premature to say anything till we fully assess the record," said Schumer, who appeared with Graham on "FOX News Sunday."
But Feinstein, who said she was concerned about Alito's conservative record on abortion rights and deference to executive power, acknowledged the 15-year appellate judge had the legal credentials to serve on the Supreme Court.
"I was impressed with his ability to maintain a very even demeanor," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I think there is an additional weight you must give to his background, his qualifications and his ability," she said.
The Washington Post, in an editorial Sunday, said Alito is "undeniably a conservative" but that nominees should not be opposed on ideology alone.
"To go down that road is to believe that there exists a Democratic law and a Republican law — which is repugnant to the ideal of the rule of law," the newspaper said. "While we harbor some anxiety about the direction he may push the court, we would be more alarmed at the long-term implications of denying him a seat."
All 10 Republicans on the committee have announced their support for Alito, a 55-year-old former prosecutor and Reagan administration lawyer who is President Bush's choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Likewise, the Senate's 55 Republicans are expected to line up strongly behind Alito.
Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee chairman who supports abortion rights, acknowledged that Alito gave himself latitude during the hearings to revisit the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision by declining to call it "settled law."
But Specter, R-Pa., noted that other justices such as O'Connor and David H. Souter also were believed to be hostile to the Roe decision, only to surprise everyone later with an opposite view once they were confirmed.
"The rule seems to be that there is no rule," Specter said on ABC's "This Week."