Democratic senators, leery of US President George W. Bush's push to steer the nation's highest court more to the right, are expected to notch up the pressure in the days ahead on Samuel Alito, the president's nominee for the Supreme Court.
The second day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, to be held yesterday, would "get down to business," said Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.
The 55-year-old Alito, who Bush has put forward for Justice Sandra Day O'Conner's swing seat in the politically divided court, listened to hours of partisan verbiage on Monday from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Abortion is proving to be a predictably heated issue among Democrats fearful of a high court that would overturn the landmark Roe v Wade abortion rights decision. Alito was to be peppered with queries yesterday, when questioning began, about Bush's use of domestic spying and other actions that critics consider unconstitutional extensions of presidential power.
That issue is proving particularly contentious as Bush faces steady opposition to handling of the war in Iraq and to what civil libertarians and many lawmakers say is an attempt to commandeer executive rights not afforded the president, particularly at the expense of Americans' civil liberties. The vocal criticism of domestic spying by Republicans and Democrats alike reflects that this is an election year for Congress.
In writings early in his career, Alito favored giving presidents a wide berth in investigative and intelligence powers.
Statements in the opening of Senate confirmation hearings on Monday made clear that those will not be overlooked.
The 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee read statements to put on record their likely paths during yesterday's first question-and-answer session for Alito's nomination to be the 110th justice of the nation's highest court.
"Your record raises troubling questions about whether you appreciate the checks and balances in our Constitution -- the careful efforts of our Founding Fathers to protect us from a government or a president determined to seize too much power over our lives," Durbin said.
Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said Alito's record shows "support for an all-powerful executive branch."
The veteran lawmaker said this was troubling "in an era when the White House is abusing power, is excusing and authorizing torture and is spying on American citizens."
Bush had hoped that Alito -- son of an Italian immigrant father and a first-generation American mother -- would be confirmed without much hullaballoo and give him breathing room from continuing low poll numbers. The same polls give Alito much higher approval numbers than Bush's 40 percent.
Despite the president's wishes the comments quickly took on a partisan flavor among the Judiciary Committee's 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.
Alito sought to allay misgivings, saying that he would do what the law requires "in every single case" if approved for the Supreme Court.
As a federal appellate judge, "I swore that I would administer justice without respect to persons, that I would do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I would carry out my duties under the Constitution and the laws of the United States," Alito said. "And that is what I have tried to do to the very best of my ability for the past 15 years. And if I am confirmed, I pledge to you that that is what I would do on the Supreme Court."