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Bush Taps Alito for Supreme Court Vacancy

President Bush has nominated federal Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, a choice that quickly cheered the many conservatives who were disappointed with his last pick. Bush moved swiftly after his first nominee, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, withdrew her name from consideration last week amid growing opposition from members of the right that she lacked experience and wasn't conservative enough.

Alito will likely escape that particular criticism. He has spent the past 15 years as a judge on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. During that time, he consistently took conservative positions on such issues as opposing abortion and favoring public displays of religion. In fact, he's been dubbed "Scalito" by colleagues, referring to conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Speaking at the White House Monday, Bush called Alito "one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America." He was careful to highlight Alito's extensive judicial experience. In contrast to Miers, the 55-year-old Alito has spent decades serving as a judge or arguing cases before one.

"He has participated in thousands of appeals and authored hundreds of opinions," Bush said. "This record reveals a thoughtful judge who considers the legal merits carefully and applies the law in a principled fashion."

Conservatives and many Republicans immediately hailed Alito's nomination. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "Anyone would be hard-pressed to name another nominee with such a sterling and distinguished record. Judge Alito believes the law -- not the judge -- should determine the results in a case."

Liberals and a number of Democrats swiftly criticized Mr. Bush's choice. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), said Alito was probably "too radical for the American people."

Alito's most well-known opinion is his dissent in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in October 1991. Alito and his colleagues on the 3rd Circuit sided with the state, agreeing that teenagers must have parental consent before obtaining an abortion. They also upheld legislation stating that women must wait 24 hours after receiving information on alternatives to abortion before undergoing the procedure. But in an opinion that dissented in part, Alito went a step further and said it was within the law to require women to notify their spouses before they get an abortion.

When the U.S. Supreme Court took up an appeal of the ruling in 1992, much of the 3rd Circuit's ruling was upheld. The court agreed some limits such as parental notification were valid. But it agreed with the majority of the lower court that requiring women to notify their husbands was unconstitutional. The high court disagreed with Alito's lone dissent, saying requiring spousal notification would present an "undue burden" to women seeking an abortion.

In other cases, Alito sided with communities and citizens who wished to display religious symbols. In one case, he said a city hall display of holiday religious and non-religious items was legal, in part because taxpayers did not pay for the displays.

More of his writings are likely to be sifted through in coming days and weeks, including rulings on political asylum, an opinion that a campus police officer could be suspended prior to a hearing after he had been arrested on drug charges, and a majority opinion that a high school did not uphold a student's right to an education when it did not protect him from a bully.

Alito was born in Trenton, N.J., on April 1, 1950. He graduated from Princeton University and Yale Law School. After passing the bar, he clerked for Judge Leonard I. Garth on the 3rd Circuit, where Garth now presides.

Before being appointed to that court by President George H.W. Bush, Alito was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. He also served as deputy assistant attorney general and assistant to the solicitor general.

Alito was careful not to express any political or personal opinions Monday as he accepted the nomination. As his wife, son and daughter looked on, he talked about his respect for the court and his family's immigration to the United States from Italy in 1914.

He also said he was thrilled to be nominated to fill the seat of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom he said went out of her way to treat him gently the first time he argued before the Supreme Court.

"I was grateful to her on that happy occasion, and I am particularly honored to be nominated for her seat," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.