Alito takes oath to join Supreme Court Confirmation showed divisions among Dems

David Espo Associated Press Feb. 1, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - Samuel Alito took his place on the Supreme Court on Tuesday after winning Senate confirmation, a personal triumph and a political milestone in President Bush's campaign to give the judiciary a more conservative cast.

The 58-42 Senate vote was largely along party lines as Democrats registered overwhelming opposition to Bush's choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose rulings have helped uphold abortion rights, affirmative action and other legal precedents of the past 50 years.

Bush hailed Alito as "a brilliant and fair-minded judge who strictly interprets the Constitution and laws and does not legislate from the bench."

"It is a seat that is reserved for few but that impacts millions," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said moments before the Senate sealed Alito's place in history as the nation's 110th justice.

Alito, 55, and a veteran of 15 years on the appeals court, watched on television alongside Bush at the White House as the Senate voted.

He was sworn in about an hour later in a low-key ceremony at the Supreme Court building across the street from the Capitol. Chief Justice John Roberts, Bush's first nominee for the high court, administered the oath of office.

Alito's confirmation has been a certainty for days, and all Republicans except Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island voted for him. Only four of 44 Democrats voted in favor of confirmation, the lowest total in modern history for an opposition party.

"There is no consensus that he will allow the court to perform its vital role in continuing the march of progress toward justice and equal opportunity," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, leader in a final attempt to derail the nomination that exposed Democratic divisions, instead.

Roberts was confirmed by a far wider figure, 78-22, late last year, replacing the late William Rehnquist.

Republicans were unanimous in voting for Roberts, and Democrats had split evenly, 22 in favor and 22 opposed.

Roberts was viewed by Democrats as one conservative replacing another. By contrast, Alito is seen by Democrats and outside groups aligned with them as a Reagan-era conservative replacement for a moderate justice whose opinions kept the court centered.

The conservative Family Research Council said it welcomed Alito's confirmation in behalf of those whose "weariness over the court's embrace of judicial activism rallied voters across the country in pursuit of a new course."

Bush has long said he hoped to appoint members of the Supreme Court in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The two men are among the court's minority that has voted to overturn the landmark 1973 court ruling that establish a woman's right to an abortion, the issue representative of a political and cultural divide that has persisted for over 30 years.

Judging from the court docket, the first case Alito will hear from his seat at the far right end of the bench will involve a pair of challenges to Clean Water Act regulations, appeals from cases filed by landowners and a paper mill.

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