Conservative judge Samuel Alito neared certain confirmation to the US Supreme Court after winning the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee over Democratic objections and commitments from a majority of senators for the final vote.
All 10 Republicans on the panel voted on Tuesday to support US President George W. Bush's nominee for a seat on the US' highest court. All eight Democrats opposed Alito.
Later, the nomination became certain of passage with public pledges of "yes" votes from 50 of the 55 Republicans and one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. The commitments came through the senators' representatives, interviews with The Associated Press or news releases.
Democrats fear Alito will shift the court to the right. He would replace Sandra Day O'Connor, who has cast the deciding vote on abortion and other divisive issues.
"We urge the Senate to move forward with a swift up or down vote so he can begin serving on our nation's highest court," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after the committee's vote.
The Alito nomination has given a boost to the Bush administration at a time it is coping with low public support, mounting casualties in Iraq and a series of scandals involving prominent Republicans.
Alito withstood sharp Democratic attacks on his judicial record and personal credibility without a major stumble during confirmation hearings this month. Democrats were unable to find grounds for launching a filibuster, a politically risky delaying tactic that minority parties use to block bills or nominees.
"If anybody has demonstrated judicial temperament and poise and patience, it is Judge Alito, And he ought to be confirmed on that basis alone," said Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican.
Alito would be the second justice nominated by Bush to serve on the nine-member court. John Roberts was confirmed as chief justice last year with the support of 22 Democrats. Roberts is also conservative, but his stellar legal prowess and charm won over many Democrats. Because he was replacing another conservative, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, his nomination had no effect on the court's balance.