President Bush has nominated Federal Appeals Judge Samuel Alito to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the United States Supreme Court. The announcement came just days after White House Counsel Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination for the post.
Harriet Miers was criticized for her lack of constitutional law experience and because she has never been a judge. From the moment he appeared in the White House with Judge Samuel Alito, the president made clear his latest nominee for the high court is very different.
He said judge Alito, who was named to the federal appeals court in 1990, has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in 70 years: "Judge Alito's reputation has only grown over the span of his service. He has participated in thousands of appeals and authored hundreds of opinions."
That record has been praised by conservatives, who voiced serious doubts about Harriet Miers.
But in pleasing the conservatives, President Bush may have set the stage for a bitter battle with Senate Democrats. They argue replacing the moderate Justice O'Connor with a staunch conservative could tip the ideological make up of the court for decades to come.
Senate Democratic Party Leader Harry Reid has warned of possible trouble. He spoke Sunday on ABC's This Week program and suggested the president may be counting on a fight with the Democrats over the Supreme Court to take the focus off other problems facing the administration, such as declining support for the war in Iraq and the scandal-driven resignation of a top aide to the vice-president.
Mr. Reid said, "It appears they want to have a fight out here somewhere in the senate to divert attention from the many problems they have had in the White House, some of which I have enumerated."
Democrats have warned they may use delaying tactics, such as an open-ended debate called a filibuster, to derail a Supreme Court nominee they think is too conservative. Republicans, who hold a majority in the Senate, have said they have the votes to ultimately prevail.
In making the announcement, the president made no direct mention of the political wrangling that could lie ahead. Instead, he focused on Judge Alito's legal qualifications. He called him a principled judge, a master of the law and a man of enormous character: "He is scholarly, fair minded, and principled, and these qualities will serve our nation well in the highest court in the land."
President Bush described Judge Alito in terms similar to those he used in nominating Chief Justice John Roberts, making clear the White House is presenting him to the Senate for confirmation as a jurist cast very much in the Roberts mold: "I am confident that the United States Senate will be impressed by Judge Alito's distinguished record, his measured judicial temperament and his tremendous personal integrity."
The president urged the Senate to confirm Samuel Alito as the newest Supreme Court justice by the end of the year.
In accepting the nomination, Judge Alito focused on his respect for the court, saying it has only grown stronger during his 29-years of public service as a government lawyer, prosecutor and judge: "During all of that time, my appreciation of the vital role that the Supreme Court holds in our constitutional system has only deepened."
Judge Alito is 55-years old, and argued his first case before the high court as a Justice Department lawyer at the age of 29. He recalled that the very first justice who questioned him on that day was the women he seeks to succeed on the court, Sandra Day O'Connor.