Nomination could trigger filibuster, politicial scientists say
President George W. Bush's nomination earlier this week of 3rd Circuit Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court is likely to result in a filibuster by Democrats, according to two University of North Texas political scientists.
Dr. Wendy Watson, assistant professor of political science, says the nomination of Alito, who is known for his conservative political views, "is sure to raise the ire of Democrats and even more liberal Republicans," while her UNT colleague Dr. Corey Ditslear, an associate professor, points out that the 22 Democrats who voted against John Roberts' nomination for Supreme Court Chief Justice in September will likely be opposed to Alito.
"Some moderate Republicans who were hoping for a moderate woman or Hispanic may also be reluctant to support Alito," Ditslear says.
He describes Alito, who has served on the 3rd Circuit Appeals Court for 15 years, as "Scalia lite," with preferences very similar to that of current Justice Anthony Scalia, but adds that Alito "is not as vitriolic" as Scalia.
Watson says Alito's nomination was a move by Bush to "redeem himself with the far right base," after his previous nomination of Harriet Miers, whose voting record was largely unknown .
She points out that despite several "noteworthy progressive decisions," Alito's staunch anti-abortion dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey "is going to make him a lightning rod nominee -- especially as a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor, who has frequently been a swing vote in abortion cases."
"It seems likely that the Democrats -- emboldened by Miers' withdrawal and the other scandals facing the White House -- will come out swinging, and a filibuster seems a distinct possibility," she says. "Bush hinted at the likelihood of a filibuster in his announcement of the nomination, when he urged the Senate to give Alito an ‘up or down' vote by the end of the year."
Ditslear, who witnessed Justice Stephen Breyer's confirmation hearings in 1994 as a legal intern for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Anti-Trust Subcommittee, and helped to prepare the committee's statements and questions for Breyer, says that with waning support for Bush, "it seems likely that the Republicans will not be able to push Alito past a filibuster."
Filibuster or not, "it is highly unlikely that Alito or anyone else would be able to gain confirmation prior to the middle of January, leaving O'Connor as the swing vote on some key abortion and euthanasia cases currently before the Court," he says.