Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee accused President Bush's latest Supreme Court nominee of being far too deferential to executive power and invariably favouring the state over the rights of the individual.
Edward Kennedy, the party's liberal standard bearer, told Judge Samuel Alito as the committee got down to serious questioning yesterday: "Your record shows you believe in the supremacy of the executive branch and an almost all-powerful presidency." .
To make his argument, Senator Kennedy cited several cases from Judge Alito's 15-year stint on the federal appeals bench in which, he claimed, the judge had sided with the state even when some of his conservative colleagues disagreed.
Along with abortion, the issue of abuse of executive power and the judiciary's role as the last line of defence against such abuse, have emerged as a potential stumbling blocks to Judge Alito's confirmation.
The row has been propelled on to the front pages by last month's revelation that President Bush has allowed the National Security Agency to conduct wiretapping without warrants against US citizens, bypassing a special domestic court that normally authorises such procedures. The White House, Mr Kennedy charged, was "abusing power, excusing and authorising torture and spying on American citizens." Judge Alito, he said, "has to speak out on his commitment to constitutional values and liberties".
On abortion, Judge Alito sought to pacify his critics by indicating he would be in no rush to rule against the 1973 Roe v Wade decision upholding a woman's right to have an abortion. He had "an open mind" on the issue.
These Supreme Court hearings are arguably the most important in a generation. Judge Alito would replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, frequently the key swing vote on the nine-member court. Democrats and civil liberties groups say his confirmation would tilt the body decisively to the right.Reuse content