WASHINGTON – Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said Tuesday he won't rule out a filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, although he said no one in his party is actively planning to use the tactic.
"Certainly nobody I know is," said the Wisconsin senator, who is considered a possible Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. "But I'm not going to take it off the table. It's my right as a senator and it's an important right."
Senators have been jousting lately over whether the minority Democrats are planning to filibuster Alito, who was nominated by President Bush to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Sunday he would move to eliminate judicial filibusters if Democratic launch one against Alito. Democrats in turn said they aren't planning a filibuster right now, although they refuse to say they won't try to start one.
"They cannot, as they have been doing now for more than six weeks, keep filibuster hopes alive by suggestions and hints, and then claim their political hands are clean when senators on this side of the aisle respond," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a statement Tuesday.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the Senate's senior Democrat, said Monday he didn't think there would be a filibuster of Alito.
"I think the talk about filibusters will just disappear," Frist said Tuesday.
The filibuster is a parliamentary tactic whereby senators use their right to virtually unlimited debate to block measures, legislation or nominations. It takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to stop a filibuster.
Alito's confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin Jan. 9, and Senate Republicans hope to have a confirmation vote by Jan. 20.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Tuesday in a letter to Alito that he would question Alito at the hearings on his feelings about overturning longtime precedents, the rights of criminal defendants, the use of statistical analysis in judicial decisions and Alito's past decisions on religious expression.
"In your 15 years on the bench, you have grappled with several challenging cases including the free-exercise rights of religious minorities, including the rights of Muslims, Orthodox Jews and those practicing the traditional faith of American Indians," Specter said. "In all of those cases you have ruled in favor of the rights of the religious minority."
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also called for legislation to force Supreme Court nominees to give Congress three years' worth of their tax records after the White House refused to provide Alito's tax records.
"The American people have a right to know that nominees for the highest court, including Judge Alito, have faithfully complied with the most basic of federal requirements: filing timely and honest tax returns every year," said Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee.
The National Association of Manufacturers endorsed Alito on Tuesday. "Judge Alito has exhibited a commitment to interpreting the law as written, not according to his personal views," said John Engler, the group's president.