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Senators grill Alito about abortion, presidential power
Scripps Howard News Service


January 11, 2006
Wednesday AM

WASHINGTON - Judge Samuel Alito testified Tuesday that if he were confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, he would ignore his personal feelings about Roe vs. Wade and make decisions according to the law.

Tuesday was the first day senators questioned Alito during his nomination hearings, expected to last all week. The two hottest topics of the day were abortion and presidential power.

Alito ruled on abortion restrictions three times on the appeals court - twice to uphold them, and once to reject them.




"In each instance, I did it because I thought that's what the law required," he said.

"If I'd had an agenda to uphold any regulation of abortion that came before me, I would've ruled the other way."

Alito told Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that the fact that judges have upheld the right to an abortion for 30 years is important.

"There needs to be a special justification for overriding prior precedent," he said.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, argued with Specter and Alito, saying that just because Roe "has been upheld for 30 years does not mean that it's entitled to special deference."

He said the pregnant woman in the Roe lawsuit has now said she lied about the facts in the case, and she wishes it would be overturned. He said, "We also know much more (now) about the life of babies in utero."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Alito to give her an example of a special justification. He talked around the question for several minutes, until she complained he had not answered.

Then he said if the ruling is so disputed that it's constantly being litigated, that's one reason the court could decide it's unworkable. Then, the problem could be sent back to politicians, he said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Republicans "believe there has been a liberal social agenda promoted by the courts . . . contrary to the wishes of the American people." He asked if it's not the role of elected officials to set social policies, not judges.

Alito, with more passion in his voice than he'd had most of the day, said, "That is exactly correct, (the judiciary) has to have respect for the political process."

Several senators were equally passionate as they talked about what they see as the abuses of presidential power that have been revealed in recent news stories - and their feeling that only the Supreme Court has the power restrict it.

Most recently, President Bush added a "signing statement" to his signature of the ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, saying he could override it in cases of national security.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, "The president, in his signing statement, implies that it will not apply to him, or to those under his command as commander in chief."

He asked if the president has the right to do that.

Alito said at first that the Supreme Court would have to hash out the issue, but when repeatedly pressed, he said the president cannot override a law that is constitutional.

Leahy responded, "Wouldn't it be constitutional to outlaw Americans from using torture?"

Alito did not directly answer, but said, "It is certainly an expression of a very deep value of our country."


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