WASHINGTON—Samuel A. Alito Jr. became the 110th U.S. Supreme Court justice on Tuesday, confirmed with the most partisan victory in modern history after a fierce battle over the future direction of the high court.
Alito replaces Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court's first female justice and a key moderate swing vote on issues like assisted suicide, campaign finance law, the death penalty, affirmative action for minorities and abortion.
The Senate voted 58-42 to confirm Alito — a former federal appellate judge, U.S. attorney and conservative lawyer for the Reagan administration from New Jersey — as the replacement for retiring O'Connor.
All but one of the Senate'smajority Republicans voted for his confirmation, while all but four of the Democrats voted against Alito.
That is the smallest number of senators in the president's opposing party to support a Supreme Court justice in modern history. Chief Justice John Roberts got 22 Democratic votes last year, and Justice Clarence Thomas — who was confirmed in 1991 on a 52-48 vote — got 11 Democratic votes.
Alito watched the final vote from the White House's Roosevelt Room with his family. He was to be sworn in by Roberts at the Supreme Court in a private ceremony later in the day, in plenty of time for himtoappearwith President George W. Bush at the State of the Union speech Tuesday evening. Bush chose Alito for a seat on the highest U.S. court and confirmation represented a victory for his administration.
Alito will be ceremonially sworn in a second time at a White House appearance on Wednesday.
With the confirmation vote, O'Connor's resignation became official. She resigned in July but agreed to remain until her successor was confirmed. She was in Arizona Tuesday teaching a class at the University of Arizona law school.
Underscoring the rarity of a Supreme Court justice confirmation, senators answered the roll by standing one by one at their desks as their names were called, instead of voting and leaving the chamber. Alito and Roberts are the first two new members of the Supreme Court since 1994.
Alito is a longtime federal appeals judge, having been confirmed by the Senate by unanimous consent on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on April 27, 1990. Before that, he worked as New Jersey's U.S. attorney and as a lawyer in the Justice Department for the conservative Ronald Reagan administration.
It was his Reagan-era work that caused the most controversy during his three-month candidacy for the high court.
Critics who mounted a fierce campaign against his nomination noted that while he worked in the solicitor general's office for Reagan, he suggested that the Justice Department should try to chip away at abortion rights rather than mount an all-out assault. He also wrote in a 1985 job application for another Reagan administration post that he was proud of his work helping the government argue that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."
Now, Alito says, he has great respect for the Supreme Court's 1973 landmark decision legalizing abortion as a precedent but refused to commit to upholding it in the future. "I would approach the question with an open mind and I would listen to the arguments that were made," he told senators at his confirmation hearing earlier this month.
Democrats weren't convinced, with liberals even unsuccessfully trying to rally support to filibuster Alito on Monday. "The 1985 document amounted to Judge Alito's pledge of allegiance to a conservative radical Republican ideology," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said before the vote.
— The Associated Press