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Senate Democrats moved quickly Monday to put Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr. on the defensive, challenging him to respond forthrightly to their questions on abortion, executive power, affirmative action and other individual rights issues as a condition for their votes to confirm him. As the Senate Judiciary Committee began its weeklong hearing on Alito, Republicans defended President George W. Bush’s nominee to the high court, but indicated they too have questions about his record. Alito got a symbolic boost from Bush before the hearing with breakfast at the White House. “Sam’s got the intellect necessary to bring a lot of class to that Court,” said Bush to reporters afterwards. “I know the American people will be impressed, just like I have been impressed and a lot of other members of the Senate have been impressed.” But Democrats made it clear that while Alito has the intelligence and temperament for the high court, they have a lot of questions for him in coming days. “Supreme Court nominations should not be conducted through a series of winks and nods designed to reassure Republican factions while leaving the American people in the dark,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “Before we give you the keys to the car, we would like to know where you plan to take us,” added Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin. “Most of the familiar arguments for ducking direct questions no longer apply and certainly do not apply in your case,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Because of Alito’s 15 years as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Schumer said, Alito cannot beg off answering questions about the views he has already expressed. “You have already given the appearance of bias” against abortion rights, Schumer said. Democrat’s hostile tone in scripted opening statements Monday afternoon were a sure signal that Alito’s hearing will be substantially more contentious than the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. four months ago. Several Democrats indicated deep doubt about whether they could vote for Alito, 55. Democrats repeatedly cited Alito’s long track record as well as the fact that he was nominated to replace swing vote Sandra Day O’Connor as reasons for greater scrutiny. “More than any recent nominee, your speeches, your writings, and your judicial opinions make it clear that you have the burden to prove to the American people that you would not come to the Supreme Court with any political agenda,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. “Clear and candid answers to the questions we ask are critical to the outcome of this hearing.” For their part, Republican Judiciary Committee members defended Alito and indicated they would defend him if he refuses to answer questions about issues that could come before him as a justice. “Scorecards are common in the political process, but they are inappropriate in the judicial process,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “The most important tools in the judicial process are not litmus paper and a calculator.” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, urged Alito not to worry about attacks from liberal groups. “Criticism is a badge of honor,” Grassley said. Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., was notably more neutral in his own opening remarks, stating “I have reserved my own judgment,” and indicating he has reservations about Alito’s views on abortion rights. Specter and other senators also indicated they will ask Alito about his views on presidential and congressional power. “This hearing comes at a time of great national concern about the balance between civil rights and the President’s national security authority,” Specter said. Alito sat passively as the senators sparred with each other over the ground rules for the questioning he will face Tuesday and Wednesday. His only reference to the battle ahead came when he introduced his family. Alito recalled that when he was nominated to the appeals court in 1990, his son Philip, then 3, tried to sit next to him to help him defend against tough questions. “I don’t know whether he’s going to try the same thing tomorrow, but probably I could use the help,” Alito said. Philip is now a student at the University of Virginia. His sister Laura is a swim team star at a high school in New Jersey.

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