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Alito Day 5: Senate Hearings Conclude

The Senate Judiciary Committee ended its hearing on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on Friday with all signs pointing toward his confirmation on a party-line vote -- but only after a delay also pushed along party lines.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) closed the hearing early Friday afternoon by announcing that he will vote for Alito and predicting approval by the GOP-controlled panel. But Specter's plan for a committee vote on Tuesday was upset when ranking Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said some Democratic senators would use committee rules to delay the vote by a week.

Leahy said a delay was necessary because some senators would not be back in Washington after the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in time for a Tuesday vote. But Specter said the delay contradicted the schedule that he and Leahy had agreed to in November and indicated he would convene the committee on Tuesday anyway.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're going to proceed on the 17th," Specter said. "If they're held over, they're held over."

Specter, the most moderate of the 10 Republicans on the committee, had signaled likely support for Alito in his questions and comments throughout the week. On Friday, he said that Alito's qualifications were "agreed to" and that Alito "went about as far as he could go" in answering senators' questions on a range of issues -- most prominently, abortion and executive power.

Leahy did not say how he intends to vote, but he and the seven other committee Democrats indicated strong doubts about Alito as they questioned the veteran federal appeals court judge during his 18 hours of testimony. Specter told reporters afterward that he expects a party-line vote in the committee and "with some deviations" on the Senate floor.

Republicans hold a 55-44 edge over Democrats in the Senate, with one independent.

The scheduling dispute came after the committee concluded the five-day hearing with 23 outside witnesses, divided between Alito supporters and opponents. Opponents warned that his confirmation could lead to diminished protection for civil rights and liberties and expanded presidential power.

Supporters representing a range of political viewpoints countered by echoing Alito's own testimony that he has no political agenda. They disputed criticisms of his record as tilting in favor of government and corporations and against individuals.

Immediately after the hearing closed, the coalition of groups opposing Alito said they would step up television advertising and other lobbying efforts over the weekend.

Specter discounted any possible impact. "I don't think there's any life in it as a political issue," he said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kenneth Jost