Just four days after Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers pulled out of the running to replace retiring justice Sandra Day O'Connor, President Bush tapped conservative federal judge Samuel Alito for the position.
"Judge Alito is one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America," Bush said during an announcement of Alito's nomination on Monday morning in the White House. "And his long career in public service has given him an extraordinary breadth of experience."
During the brief announcement, the president highlighted the nominee's long, distinguished career as a judge, praising Alito for his "enormous character" as well as his "mastery of law" and a "deep commitment to justice."
Alito, known by the nickname "Scalito," or "Scalia Lite" for his similarity to conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, has been a federal judge in the third circuit court of appeals in Philadelphia for 15 years. Unlike Scalia, who has a reputation for being combative, Alito has been described as polite and even tempered.
Alito was nominated to the bench by Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush, and was formerly a U.S. attorney and chief prosecutor in New Jersey. The 55-year-old judge is a graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School, and his strong conservative background is expected to heal some of the divisions between President Bush and his conservative base over the failed Miers nomination (see "Why Does Bush's Latest Supreme Court Nominee Scare The GOP?").
In highlighting Alito's long service on the bench, Bush quickly set his latest nominee up as a more seasoned pick than Miers. Unlike Miers, Alito's long history on the bench will likely satisfy those who decried her lack of experience and unclear conservative credentials during the brutal three-week stretch before she stepped down (see "Harriet Miers Withdraws Her Nomination To Supreme Court").
Even before the president unveiled his latest pick, much of the spotlight on Alito's record was focused on a controversial 1991 decision in which he upheld a requirement in Pennsylvania that a woman has to inform her husband if she wanted to get an abortion. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court a year later (see "Bush's Supreme Court Picks Could Tilt The Scales On Abortion, Gay Marriage").
Saying Alito has "more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in 70 years," Bush urged the Senate to move quickly on the nomination and vote before the end of the year.
Alito said he was "deeply honored" by the nomination, adding that he has always held the Supreme Court in reverence. He recalled the first time he stepped to the lectern at the Supreme Court in 1982 and the sense of awe he felt, as well as a sense of relief when Justice O'Connor made sure the first question he answered was an easy one. Alito has argued 12 cases in front of the Supreme Court.
While Democrats — who mostly sat on the sidelines during the battle over Miers — have not said for certain that they will mount a filibuster against Alito, they have hinted that they will vigorously question the nomination. On Sunday, Senate minority leader Harry Reid said an Alito nomination would "create a lot of problems," and in a statement released just after the announcement, he questioned the judge's "radical" background. The New York Times reported that Alito was a leading contender for the position last time around, before the president opted for someone outside the "judicial monastery" (see "Bush Nominates White House Counsel Harriet Miers To Supreme Court").
Before his current stint on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Alito was the U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey (1987-1990), the deputy assistant to the U.S. attorney general (1985-1987) and assistant to the U.S. solicitor general (1981-1985).