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Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr. said on Tuesday that he would keep an open mind on abortion disputes, but confirmed that a 1985 Justice Department job application in which he wrote that there was no right to an abortion in the Constitution was a viewpoint he held “at the time.” “That was the position I held at the time, that was the position of the [Reagan] administration,” Alito told Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who led off the questioning on the second day of Alito’s confirmation hearings. It was the first time since he was nominated that Alito had a chance to address his critics directly. Monday’s opening day consisted entirely of 10-minute statements by each of the Judiciary Committee’s 18 members � 10 Republicans and eight Democrats � and a prepared statement by Alito. By early Tuesday afternoon, however, Alito had fielded questions about a host of contentious subjects, including executive power, the Fourth Amendment, abortion, and his membership in a controversial Princeton University alumni group that favored admissions restrictions for women and blacks. Alito, 55, has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit for the past 15 years and has written more than 350 opinions, several of which were at issue today. Maintaining a steady and somewhat reedy tone, Alito sat calmly through questioning by Specter and the committee’s three most senior Democrats: ranking member Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Edward Kennedy (Mass.), and Joseph Biden (Del.). Biden in particular delivered a long and rambling discourse in his allotted half-hour, leaving Alito only a few minutes in which to respond. As they did during the nomination hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. last fall, Republicans on the panel lobbed softball questions at Alito for the most part. For example, Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, the committee’s former chairman, asked Alito if he was “against women and minorities attending college.” “Absolutely not,” Alito said. “I felt that would be your answer,” Hatch responded. Alito returned frequently to the one broad theme that has emerged since he was nominated to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor last October � namely, that he would interpret the laws, not legislate from the bench. “Although the judiciary has a very important role to play, it’s a limited role,” Alito told Hatch. The judiciary, said Alito, “should always be asking itself whether it’s straying over the bounds, making policy judgments, rather than interpreting the law.” Democrats, starting with Leahy, were far more strident in their questioning. Among several issues that Leahy focused on was the intersection of executive and congressional power.

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