WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito picked up two new Democratic supporters alongside liberal critics Thursday, and Republicans began calling for the Senate to end its debate and vote to confirm him.
"Senate Democrats should stop their foot-dragging on the vote for Judge Alito to become Justice Alito," said Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Tim Johnson of South Dakota announced their support for the conservative judge.
The New Jersey jurist's confirmation as the nation's 110th justice is assured, with 51 Republicans and Democrats Byrd, Johnson and Ben Nelson of Nebraska pledging to vote for his nomination to replace the moderate Sandra Day O'Connor on the nine-member Supreme Court.
"My considered judgment from his record, from his answers to my questions, and from his obvious intelligence and sincerity, leads me to believe him to be an honorable man who loves his country, loves his Constitution and will give of his best. Can we really ask for more?" said Byrd, the senior Democrat in the 100-member Senate.
He and other Democratic senators are calling for their party not to filibuster, the only weapon the minority party has left to try and stop Alito.
Democrats have not agreed to a time for a final vote, although Republicans are pushing for the 55-year-old judge from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to be confirmed before Bush's State of the Union on Tuesday.
Alito "understands the role of a judge is not to advance a personal and political agenda," President Bush said Thursday at the White House. "He is a decent man. He's got a lot of experience and he deserves an up-or-down vote in the Senate."
Alito would replace the court's first female justice, who throughout her years on the high court often has been a key fifth vote on contentious social issues including abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.
Democrats continued to warn that Alito's confirmation would put individual rights and liberties in danger. Dianne Feinstein of California, the only woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Alito would join justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in the court's conservative wing and apply "originalist" interpretations to court decisions.
"If an originalist analysis was applied to the Fourteenth Amendment, women would not be provided equal protection under the Constitution, interracial marriages could be outlawed, schools could still be segregated and the principle of one man, one vote would not govern the way we elect our representatives," Feinstein said.
Nelson, Byrd and Johnson are the only Democrats to express support for Alito so far.
Thirty senators — all Democrats except for independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont — are on record against Alito. Twenty-two of the Senate's 44 Democrats voted against John Roberts' confirmation as chief justice last year.
If the pattern continues, Alito may be on his way to the most partisan Senate victory for a Supreme Court nominee in years. The closest vote in modern history is Thomas' 52-48 victory in 1991, when 11 Democrats broke with their party and voted for President George H.W. Bush's nominee.