President Bush has selected federal appeals judge Samuel Alito, 55, as his new Supreme Court nominee to succeed retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who had been a swing voter on abortion and other social issues.
In his announcement from the White House at 8 a.m., Bush called Judge Alito “one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America (with) an extraordinary breadth of experience.” The president cited Alito’s long professional career as a prosecutor, and said his candidate had “gained a reputation for being tough and fair.”
The chief executive’s announcement comes just four days after the withdrawal of Harriet Miers amid severe opposition to her appointment from the Republican Party’s right wing. In contrast, Alito is said to have solid conservative credentials and would be warmly embraced by Bush’s political base.
Gary Bauer, president of the conservative activist group American Values, has already voiced his support of Alito as a proven conservative who would strictly interpret the Constitution. “For me, the criteria has to be to find that individual that has the right philosophy and the right experience to get through a confirmation process,” Bauer told CNN.
But the Senate’s top Democrat, minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, raised the possibility of “a lot of problems” with the nomination of Alito, who sits on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I think the American people can see through this so clearly. The president should come forward with some middle-of-the-road person, somebody that is going to be a good Supreme Court justice, not somebody that’s going to be writing the law from the bench,” Reid told ABC’s This Week.
A judge on the Philadelphia-based appellate court since 1990, Alito – a graduate of Princeton and the Yale Law School – has been dubbed “Scalito” or “Scalia-lite” by some lawyers because his conservative judicial philosophy invites comparisons to that of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, reports the Associated Press.
In one case, Alito wrote the lone dissent striking down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to inform their husbands. The case later was appealed to the Supreme Court, which voted 6-3 in 1992 to strike down the spousal notification requirement. In his dissent, former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said he agreed with Alito’s reasoning.
Alito’s “is not one of the names that I’ve suggested to the president,” Democratic leader Reid told CNN. “In fact, I’ve done the opposite. I think it would create a lot of problems.”
Reid and other Democrats have suggested that Bush, given his low poll numbers, should nominate a consensus candidate rather than someone selected specifically to rally his conservative base – or else face a huge battle over ideology and even a possible filibuster by Democratic senators.