WASHINGTON – Two Democrats who supported Chief Justice John Roberts said Thursday they would oppose Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, reducing the number of confirmation votes the conservative judge will get next week.
He is expected to be confirmed, but with fewer votes than the 78 Roberts got in September.
Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Ken Salazar of Colorado both questioned whether Alito would be independent of President Bush and the executive branch in his future rulings.
"At a time when the president is seizing unprecedented power, the Supreme Court needs to act as a check and to provide balance," Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a speech at Georgetown University's law school. "Based on the hearing and his record, I have no confidence that Judge Alito would provide that check and balance."
Added Salazar in a statement: "Judge Alito would place too much power in the hands of the president of the United States, at the cost of the protective system of checks and balances built into our Constitution."
The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Alito's nomination out of committee on Tuesday in a party-line vote. The full Senate is expected to debate and vote on the nomination that same week, with its Republican majority confirming the federal appeals judge.
Leahy and Salazar were two of the 22 Democrats who voted for Roberts' confirmation as the replacement for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, a conservative.
Alito is not expected to get that much support from the Senate's 44-member Democratic caucus. He was picked by Bush as the replacement for retiring moderate Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the swing vote on contentious issues such as abortion and affirmative action during her career on the court.
Several other Democrats are opposing Alito, including Tom Harkin of Iowa, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Max Baucus of Montana. They all opposed Roberts.
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska is the only Democrat to announce that he will vote for Alito's confirmation next week. He also voted for Roberts' confirmation.
None of the Senate's 55 Republicans have announced opposition to Alito. Most --if not all -- of them are expected to vote for his confirmation. They all voted for Roberts.
Alito is continuing to visit Democratic and Republican senators, spending time Thursday with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and new Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Carper and Menendez have not taken positions on Alito's nomination. Menendez joined the Senate on Wednesday.
Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., announced his support for Alito after meeting with him Thursday.
"He understands the law and the Constitution extremely well, and I think one of the abilities he showed was to clearly describe how he ruled, why he ruled, and what factors were critical to particular cases," Sununu said. "That's an indication that his service on the court and his view of the Constitution is rooted in principle."