Bush picks Alito for Supreme Court

The President was announcing the nomination today.

The choice likely will mend a rift in the Republican Party caused by Bush's failed nomination of Harriet Miers.

Miers bowed out last Thursday after three weeks of bruising criticism from members of Bush's own party who argued that the Texas lawyer and loyal Bush confidant had thin credentials on constitutional law and no proven record as a judicial conservative.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to preview Bush's remarks, said Alito was virtually certain to get the nod from the moment Miers backed out. The 55-year-old jurist from New Jersey was Bush's favorite choice of the judges in the last set of deliberations but he settled instead on someone outside what he calls the "judicial monastery," the officials said.

Bush believes that Alito has not only the right experience and conservative ideology for the job, but he also has a temperament suited to building consensus on the court. A former prosecutor, Alito has experience off the bench that factored into Bush's thinking, the officials said.

While Alito is expected to win praise from Bush's allies on the right, Democrats have served notice that his nomination would spark a partisan brawl. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday that Alito's nomination would "create a lot of problems."

Unlike Miers, who has never been a judge, Alito has been a strong conservative voice on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since former President George Bush seated him there in 1990.

So consistently conservative, Alito has been dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But while Scalia is outspoken and is known to badger lawyers, Alito is polite, reserved and even-tempered.

With the embarrassing withdrawal of the Miers nomination last week, the rising death toll in Iraq and Friday's indictment of top vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Bush's approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency. Polls show Democrats and most independents don't approve of his job performance, leaving the conservative wing of his party the only thing keeping Bush afloat politically.

Judicial conservatives praise Alito's 15 years on the Philadelphia-based court, a tenure that gives him more appellate experience than almost any previous Supreme Court nominee. They say his record shows a commitment to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, ensuring that the separation of powers and checks and balances are respected and enforced. They also contend that Alito has been a powerful voice for the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech and the free exercise of religion.

Liberal groups, on the other hand, note Alito's moniker and say his nomination raises troubling concerns, especially when it comes to his record on civil rights and reproductive rights. Alito is a frequent dissenter on the 3rd Circuit, one of the most liberal federal appellate benches in the nation.

In the early 1990s, Alito was the lone dissenter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a case in which the 3rd Circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.

The case ended up at the Supreme Court where the justices, in a 6-3 decision struck down the spousal notification provision of the law. The late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist cited Alito's reasoning in his own dissent.

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