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Friday, November 04, 2005 

Pryor says Alito impressive, Gang of 14 solid

WASHINGTON - Sen. Mark Pryor came away “impressed” Thursday after a private meeting with Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. The Arkansan said he knows of no reason now why the nomination might trigger a Democratic filibuster.

He further said the “Gang of 14” that earlier this year negotiated a deal on filibusters of judicial appointments is still united after a meeting Thursday, despite news reports suggesting otherwise.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings on Alito Jan. 9, Chairman Arlen Specter announced. The Pennsylvania Republican said he expected a vote by the full Senate on Jan. 20.

President Bush had called for a vote by the end of the year.

“It simply wasn’t possible to accommodate the schedule that the White House wanted,” Specter said, outlining what he envisions as five days of hearings.

Pryor said it remains too early for him to know how he will vote.

The Democratic senator made his comments after an hour-long visit with Alito in a room on the third floor of the Capitol. Four Republicans, Robert Bennett of Utah, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, John Cornyn of Texas and Trent Lott of Mississippi also visited with the nominee.

“Clearly he has a broad knowledge of the law,” said Pryor, a lawyer and former Arkansas attorney general, adding that Alito was off “to a good start” in meeting Pryor’s three standards for evaluating court appointments - overall qualifications, judicial temperament and ability to be fair and impartial.

“I don’t want anyone on the bench who is going to come in with an agenda and try to force their agenda on the rest of the country through their decisions,” Pryor said.

Asked whether Alito gave any appearance of being a judicial activist, Pryor said, “No, he didn’t appear that way at all.”

Pryor said he was reassured when Alito talked about the importance of stare decisis, the legal principle that emphasizes the importance of precedent, and the job ahead, he said, will be to read many of Alito’s decisions to “make sure that is borne out by the facts of his career.”

The two did not discuss abortion, and Pryor said he did ask Alito about his many dissents during a 15-year career as a federal appeals judge.

Pryor said he won’t make a decision about Alito until the Judiciary Committee hearings wrap up. But, for now, he doesn’t know of any reason why Democrats would attempt to filibuster the nomination.

Under the agreement worked out in May, the Gang of 14 - seven Democrats and seven Republicans - agreed that the group’s Democrats would not filibuster except under “extraordinary circumstances.” In return, the group’s Republicans pledged not to use their majority to force through the “nuclear option,” a rule change that would prohibit such filibusters.

Pryor, who met with other members of the group Thursday morning, said, “I don’t see any extraordinary circumstances, and I don’t expect any.”

Pryor said everyone was “pretty impressed” by Alito, and reports that the group might split apart because of divisions over the nomination are “just not true,” he said.

Two Republican senators, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have said they would back Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee if a rule change became necessary to block a Democratic filibuster.

After the group’s first meeting on Alito, Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado told reporters there was “a sense that we’re still together and keeping this a civil and orderly process.” He said the Gang of 14 is not going to “blow up.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and another member of the group, said, “the process that we set up, the 14 of us, is going to be followed, and that’s periodic meetings and evaluations.”

“We want to go through this together,” added Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Pryor said it was unfortunate that Frist continues to talk about the nuclear option. “I personally see that as a huge mistake for him to say that and continue to talk about that. I think it would absolutely shut the place down.”

Democratic leaders have vowed to respond to the nuclear option by using every parliamentary tactic at their disposal to stall Republican legislative priorities.

“A lot of people are talking about a showdown, but not many senators are talking about a showdown.” Pryor said.

He doubted he would get any pressure from Democratic leaders on his Alito vote.

Said Pryor : “Each Democratic senator is given discretion to represent their state as they see fit.”
Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.

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