Today's comments in the Senate Judiciary committee, as senators prepared to vote on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, bore a surprisingly different emphasis from the questions asked during the 18 hours he was in the witness chair.
Senator Edward Kennedy, who questioned Alito repeatedly about his membership in a conservative Princeton alumni group and his failure to keep a promise about not voting in cases involving a financial company, today said not a word about either subject. Nor did Senator Joseph Biden, who joined in the questioning about the alumni group and, at one point, put on a Princeton hat.
And while Roe v. Wade and abortion played a major role in the questioning, committee Democrats today seemed far more concerned about what they view as Judge Alito's history of voting to support the government, especially given the new round of debate over the president's ordering the NSA to monitor international phone calls in and out of the U.S. without a judge's permission.
"There is no assurance that Judge Alito will serve as an effective check and balance on government intrusion into the lives of Americans. Indeed, his record suggests otherwise," said Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat.
But Republicans accused the Democrats of turning the vote on Alito into a referendum on NSA wiretapping.
"Senate Democratic leaders urged their members Tuesday to vote against him in an effort to lay the groundwork for making a campaign issue of the decisions on the court. I'll just tell you right now we welcome that debate on our side. We'll clean your clock," said Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The committee is expected to vote shortly to approve the nomination on a 10-8 vote, with the full Senate voting as early as this Friday.