Despite a last-minute threat of a filibuster from Democrats on Monday, Samuel A. Alito was confirmed as the 110th justice of the Supreme Court on Tuesday in a vote that almost entirely followed party lines.
Needing 51 votes to achieve confirmation, Alito was elevated to the highest court in the country by a 58 to 42 tally in what is seen as a major victory for President Bush in his bid to put a lasting conservative imprint on the court.
Alito now joins recently seated Chief Justice John Roberts on the bench after a contentious hearing process that was highlighted by the Democrats' frustrated efforts to derail the nomination, and the lasting image of Alito's wife bursting into tears as her husband was grilled by Senators on his past rulings (see "Samuel Alito Weathers Storm, Will Likely Be Confirmed For Supreme Court").
Alito is slated to be sworn in Tuesday (January 31) afternoon at the White House and take a seat alongside Roberts at Bush's State of the Union speech later in the evening.
According to The Associated Press, just three Democrats voted for Alito's confirmation: the lowest number of senators not in the president's party to support a Supreme Court nominee in modern history. By comparison, the viciously partisan fight against President George H.W. Bush's nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 ended in a 52-48 vote behind the support of 11 Democrats who broke party ranks.
The president is sure to make mention of the Alito confirmation in the speech, which comes at a time when several recent polls show that a majority of Americans believe Bush's second term has been a failure so far. Many fear that Alito's confirmation will tilt the court to the right; Alito succeeds retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, an appointee of Ronald Reagan and a pivotal swing vote on such important issues as abortion rights and affirmative action (see "Sandra Day O'Connor, First Woman Supreme Court Justice, Announces Retirement").
Alito was vague about his personal views on abortion during his hearings, though his past actions as a lawyer and judge have included work on strategies to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which grants women the right to abortion. He may get his first chance to vote on the issue next month, when the court takes on a partial-birth abortion case.
In another politically important issue, Alito will also be on hand to vote in a controversial case involving redistricting in Texas on March 1 that could have serious implications for the Republicans hold on power in the upcoming mid-term elections in November. Republicans closed ranks around Alito following the failed nomination in October of White House counsel Harriet Miers, whose name was withdrawn after conservatives decried her lack of experience (see "Bush Nominates Conservative Samuel Alito To Supreme Court").