WASHINGTON -- In an unusual move, several federal appeals court judges intend to testify as Republican-sponsored witnesses next week at Senate confirmation hearings for their fellow jurist, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr..
''They will testify about his approach to judging, as to whether he has an agenda, whether he is ideological, whether he pushes any specific point of view," Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said yesterday. Specter will wield the chairman's gavel at the Judiciary Committee hearings.
The decision also raises the possibility that Democrats on the panel will be able to question Anthony J. Scirica, chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, about instances in which Alito participated in cases involving an investment company despite once having promised to avoid them.
Scirica is one of two active judges on the witness list, which also includes three senior judges and two former members of the Third Circuit Court who have retired. Among the senior judges is Edward R. Becker, a college friend of Specter.
Committee hearings open Monday for Alito, President Bush's selection to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Alito's conservative credentials, as well as O'Connor's longtime standing as the swing vote on the court on a number of issues, have combined to heighten interest in his appointment.
The run-up to hearings has become the equivalent of a political campaign, complete with surrogate speakers, commercials, and public opinion polls.
Republicans disclosed their list of witnesses for the hearings as IndependentCourt.org, a group of abortion rights, civil rights, and other organizations opposed to Alito, announced new commercials that criticize him as a threat to individual rights.
With 55 seats in the Senate, Republicans hold the upper hand in their drive to confirm Alito. GOP strategists have said they remain concerned about no more than three members of their own party as they look ahead to a final confirmation vote in the Senate: Senator Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island and Senators Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, both of Maine.
Groups opposed to Alito have indicated concerns about the intentions of six or more Democrats, most, if not all of them, from Republican-leaning states.