Wednesday, November 9, 2005 - 12:00 AM
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Alito voices no threat to Roe, senators say
By Charles Babington and Michael A. Fletcher
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito expressed reluctance to overturn long-standing precedents such as the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling, a move that has helped silence some critics and may resolve a key problem early in the Senate confirmation process, several senators said Tuesday.
In private meetings with senators who support abortion rights, Alito said the Supreme Court should be wary of reversing decisions that have been repeatedly upheld, according to the senators, who said it was clear the context was abortion.
"He basically said ... that Roe was precedent on which people — a lot of people — relied, and been precedent now for decades and therefore deserved great respect," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said after meeting with Alito on Tuesday.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she had a similar conversation about an hour later with Alito, who has made clear that he personally opposes abortion. "I asked him whether it made a difference to him if he disagreed with the initial decision but it had been reaffirmed several times since then," Collins said. "I was obviously referring to Roe in that question. He assured me that he has tremendous respect for precedent and that his approach is to not overturn cases due to a disagreement with how they were originally decided."
Collins, Lieberman and others cautioned that they did not directly ask Alito if he would vote to overturn Roe and that his comments should not be seen as a guarantee. But the conversations appear to be building Alito's resistance to what might be the biggest impediment to his confirmation: liberals' claims that he is a threat to legalized abortion, which most Americans support, according to polls.
As a moderate Republican who supports abortion rights, Collins is viewed as pivotal to any serious bid to block Alito. She is a member of the bipartisan "Gang of 14," which has agreed to oppose a filibuster unless the nomination involves "extraordinary circumstances." Collins said Tuesday, "At this point, I see no basis for invoking 'extraordinary circumstances' and for anyone to mount a filibuster."
Several Republicans who oppose abortion rights said they are not alarmed by Alito's comments because they believe he will base his decisions on the Constitution and the law, standards they can live with. "I think pro-choice Republicans are feeling more and more comfortable that whatever stand he takes on the Roe issue will be driven by the law, not ideology," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Alito's confirmation hearing has been set to start Jan. 9.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report
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