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Senate Preparing to Question Latest Supreme Court Nominee

I’m Shep O'Neal with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate are preparing to question President Bush’s latest nominee for the Supreme Court.

On Monday, Mister Bush named Samuel Alito to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The president did so after his earlier nominee, Harriet Miers, withdrew from consideration because of opposition by conservatives.

The nomination of Mister Alito requires confirmation by the Senate. Democrats and Republicans agree that Judge Alito is highly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Yale University Law School. And he has fifteen years of experience as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

However, many people express concern about the future balance of the nine-member Supreme Court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor often took moderate positions that made the difference in cases decided by votes of five-to-four. Some critics say Mister Alito would change the direction of the Supreme Court and make it more conservative.

The Senate will consider how a Supreme Court nominee might affect the Court’s decisions. Senators will study rulings and opinions written by the nominee. They want to find out what he thinks about issues that could come before the Court in the future. One of the most divisive of these issues is a woman’s right to have an operation to end her pregnancy.

In nineteen seventy-three, the Supreme Court declared such abortions legal in a case known as Roe versus Wade. Many experts say that Judge Alito’s earlier court rulings lead them to believe that he would vote to change that decision. They note a decision he made in nineteen ninety-one.

Judge Alito was the only one of a three-judge group to support a Pennsylvania law that required women to tell their husbands before having an abortion. The Supreme Court rejected Judge Alito’s opinion one year later. It found the Pennsylvania law to be unconstitutional. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor took the lead in that case and helped develop the ruling that confirmed the Roe versus Wade decision.

Senators may also question Judge Alito about several other past decisions. These include racial preference in jobs and education, civil rights and the separation of church and government.

Since seventeen eighty-nine, the Senate has considered more than one hundred fifty Supreme Court nominees. The Senate Historical Office says it has rejected only twelve. Some experts say that interest groups are already trying to influence senators to vote for or against Judge Alito. They expect a huge dispute between conservatives and liberal senators when the hearings begin.

President Bush said he wants a vote on the Alito nomination by the end of the year. However, on Thursday, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said the hearings will not begin until January. IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. I’m Shep O'Neal.