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Biden does not see filibuster on new court nominee

Seeks commitment to up-or-down vote

WASHINGTON -- A filibuster on the new Supreme Court nominee, Samuel A. Alito Jr., is unlikely, Joseph R. Biden Jr., a leading Democrat on the panel that will hear Alito's testimony, said yesterday.

Biden, who is from Delaware, said that a decision would not be made about such a procedural roadblock until more legislators meet with President Bush's conservative nominee.

''My instinct is we should commit" to an up-or-down vote, said Biden, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee. ''I think the probability is that will happen.

''I think that judgment won't be made . . . until the bulk of us have had a chance to actually see him and speak to him," Biden said on ABC's ''This Week."

The committee is scheduled to begin a confirmation hearing on Jan. 9 on Alito, who has been a federal appeals judge for the past 15 years.

If confirmed, Alito would replace Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative who has often been the swing vote on the nine-member court on abortion and other social issues. O'Connor is planning to retire; her departure was put off after Harriet E. Miers withdrew her name from consideration as a justice.

''What's at stake here . . . is whether or not we are going to put a person on the Supreme Court who is sensitive to the most basic and important responsibility of the court: protecting our rights," said the Senate minority whip, Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is also on the Judiciary Committee.

Appearing on CBS's ''Face the Nation" program yesterday, Durbin said: ''Some of the opinions that he's handed down are controversial decisions: deciding that the Family and Medical Leave Act did not apply to state employees; authorizing a strip search in a situation involving a mother and her 10-year-old daughter; questions involving the rights of privacy."

A simple Senate majority is needed for confirmation. Republicans hold 55 of the Senate seats, but 60 would be required to end a filibuster, a procedural ploy that allows a Senate minority to block a nomination.

Bush nominated Alito last week, after a rebellion in the president's conservative base led Miers, the White House counsel and a longtime Bush aide, to withdraw her name from consideration.

While there were complaints that Miers had not impressed many senators, Alito received a favorable review after beginning a series of meetings with lawmakers, including members of the ''Gang of 14." Seven Democrats and seven Republicans are on the group, all centrists who associated over rules on filibusters.

They met last week, and agreed that it was too early to determine if it would permit the delaying action.

''A large number of them are favorably disposed," said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. ''I'm very favorably disposed but the important thing is the Democrats," McCain told ''Fox News Sunday."

''I have not seen any significant concern that might lead to filibuster, but they're certainly reserving all of their options, and I think that's appropriate," he said of the Democrats.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a Judiciary Committee member and a leading liberal voice in Congress, said ''it's possible" that he would support Alito but first wants answers.

''The people that were so enthusiastic about knocking down Miers are so enthusiastic for this nominee," Kennedy said on NBC's ''Meet the Press." ''We have to find out why."

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