US President George W. Bush, stung by the rejection of his first choice, nominated conservative judge Samuel Alito yesterday to replace moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in a bid to reshape the Supreme Court and mollify his political base.
"Judge Alito is one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America," Bush said in announcing Alito's selection. "He's got a mastery of the law and a deep commitment to justice."
Bush exhorted the Senate to confirm his choice by the end of the year.
The choice was likely to spark a political brawl. Unlike the nomination of Harriet Miers, which was derailed last Thursday by Bush's conservative allies, Alito faces opposition from Democrats.
"The Senate needs to find out if the man replacing Miers is too radical for the American people," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said.
In contrast to Miers, Alito "has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in 70 years," Bush said.
Consistently conservative, Alito has been dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
But while Scalia is outspoken and is known to badger lawyers, Alito is polite, reserved and even-tempered.
"The Supreme Court is an institution I have long held in reverence," said the bespectacled judge, a former prosecutor and government attorney who has argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court. "During my 29 years as a public servant, I've had an opportunity to view the Supreme Court from a variety of perspectives."
From the bench, Alito has staked out positions supporting restrictions on abortion, such as parental and spousal notification.
The White House hopes the choice of Alito mends a rift in the Republican Party caused by the failed nomination of Miers, and puts his embattled presidency on a path to political recovery.
With the rebuke of Miers, the rising death toll in Iraq, his slow-footed response to Hurricane Katrina and last Friday's indictment of top vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Bush's approval ratings are at the lowest ebb of his presidency.
O'Connor, who is retiring, has been a decisive swing vote in a host of affirmative action, abortion, campaign finance, discrimination and death penalty cases.
While Alito is expected to win praise from Bush's allies on the right, Democrats have served notice they will fight it.
Reid had warned on Sunday that the appointment would "create a lot of problems."
Unlike Miers, who has never been a judge, Alito, a jurist from New Jersey, has been a strong conservative voice on the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals since Bush's father, former president George Bush, seated him there in 1990.
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