WASHINGTON – The White House got the reaction it hoped for out of its third Supreme Court (search) nominee, federal appeals judge Samuel Alito: immediate acceptance from the conservatives who helped torpedo President Bush's previous pick.
But abortion rights Democrats are openly talking about trying to block the New Jersey jurist.
"The filibuster's on the table," Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer (search) of California said as Alito headed back to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Alito is courting Republicans crucial to his attempt to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Bush nominated Alito to the Supreme Court on Monday as a substitute for White House counsel Harriet Miers, who withdrew last week after conservatives refused to support her. Some other critics also said she wasn't qualified.
But Alito found steadfast support after Bush announced his selection, with GOP senators saying he deserved a Senate confirmation vote and threatening to eliminate judicial filibusters if Democrats try to block the White House's newest high court nominee.
"If someone would filibuster ... I would be prepared to vote to change the rules," said Sen. Mike DeWine (search), R-Ohio.
DeWine is one of the 14 centrist senators that Democrats need to sustain a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. Without the group's seven Republicans, Democrats would not be able to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., from abolishing judicial filibusters and confirming judges with just the Senate's 55-member Republican majority.
Under existing Senate rules, it takes up to 60 votes to end a filibuster and force a final vote.
Frist said he's ready to move against judicial filibusters, using what Republicans call the "constitutional option," if Democrats force him to. "If a filibuster comes back, I'm not going to hesitate," he told "The Tony Snow Show" on Fox News.
Conservatives are much more comfortable with Alito than they were with Miers because of his conservative track record as a federal judge, prosecutor and a Reagan administration lawyer.
Miers had never been a judge.
The nomination got Bush on the good side again of conservative and anti-abortion groups, who declared Alito a winner after opposing Miers.
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family Action (search), said he was "extremely pleased," and the anti-abortion Operation: Rescue (search) declared that the country was on "the fast-track to derailing Roe v. Wade as the law of the land."
Bush, who has seen his standing eroded by the insurgency in Iraq, rising fuel prices, Hurricane Katrina mistakes, the indictment of a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and Miers' nomination, emphasized Alito's work on "thousands of appeals" and "hundreds of opinions" when he introduced the candidate to the nation Tuesday.
"He has a deep understanding of the proper role of judges in our society," Bush said at the White House. "He understands that judges are to interpret the laws, not to impose their preferences or priorities on the people."
Alito pledged to uphold the duty of a judge 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."
Democrats, however, are deeply suspicious of Alito, with Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the party's leader, wondering aloud "why those who want to pack the court with judicial activists are so much more enthusiastic about him" than Miers.
Reid, who went out of his way to praise Miers after his first meeting with her, said little about Alito after he met the candidate Monday. "The judge and I had a very nice meeting in my other office," was all Reid would say.
Other Democrats, however, were less restrained. "Judge Alito's record on the bench demonstrates that he would go to great lengths to restrict the authority of Congress to enact legislation to protect civil rights and the rights of workers, consumers and women," said top Judiciary Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Added Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., also a member of the Judiciary Committee: "If confirmed, Alito could very well fundamentally alter the balance of the court and push it dangerously to the right."
Alito upheld a requirement for spousal notification in an abortion case more than a decade ago, although Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter — an abortion rights Republican — insisted that doesn't mean Alito would rule to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established abortion rights.
Earlier this year, with O'Connor casting the deciding vote, the high court threw out a death sentence that Alito had upheld in the case of a man who argued that his lawyer had been ineffective.
Democrats also expressed dismay over rulings on gun control, immigration and the Family and Medical Leave Act over a 15-year career on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
Republicans, meanwhile, returned to their insistence that all judicial nominees deserve hearings and confirmation votes.
"I expect the Judiciary Committee to conduct a fair and dignified hearing in a timely manner, followed by an up or down vote by the Senate," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bush's first nominee this year, John Roberts, is now chief justice.