WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is "clearly within the mainstream" and shouldn't be filibustered, declared a Republican who helped fashion a plan limiting parliamentary roadblocks for judicial nominees.
Sen. Mike DeWine, who met with President Bush's latest high court choice Tuesday, warned Democrats he would side with GOP leaders to eliminate the judicial filibuster if the minority party uses it against the New Jersey judge.
"It's hard for me to envision that anyone would think about filibustering this nominee," said DeWine, an Ohio Republican who sided with 13 other Republicans and Democrats earlier this year to end a Senate stalemate over judicial filibusters.
But some Democrats were contemplating just such a move as the 55-year-old Alito began courting senators on the second day of his Supreme Court candidacy. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota refused to rule out supporting a filibuster.
"I would leave all those options on the table," he said.
Johnson said he hasn't made up his mind on Alito after discussing the right to privacy and other constitutional issues with him Tuesday. "Not surprisingly, it's hard to draw hard and fast conclusions on how he will vote," Johnson said. "There is no question he is a conservative."
Democratic leaders are cautioning their colleagues against rushing to judgment on President Bush's pick to replace his previous unsuccessful choice, White House counsel Harriet Miers, as the successor for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
"Ordinarily it takes six to eight weeks to evaluate a Supreme Court nominee. We shouldn't rush to judgment," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said on CBS' "The Early Show."
DeWine, who met with Alito for more than an hour, is one of the 14 centrist senators Democrats need to sustain a filibuster. Without the group's seven Republicans, Democrats would not be able to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., from abolishing judicial filibusters and confirming judges with a simple majority vote. The Republicans hold 55 of the 100 seats in the Senate.
DeWine made clear Tuesday that a Democratic filibuster would not have his support, saying he didn't see how "anyone would think that this would constitute what our group of 14 termed 'extraordinary circumstances' that would justify a filibuster."
"This is a nomination of a judge who is clearly within the mainstream of conservative thought," he added.
The so-called "Gang of 14" - the senators who reached the deal on limiting such filibusters - will hold its first meeting on Alito Thursday.
The White House on Tuesday named former Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats and former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie to help guide Alito through his confirmation process. The two served in the same capacity for Miers, who withdrew her nomination last week after some conservatives refused to fully support her candidacy and questioned whether she was qualified.
Conservatives are much more comfortable with Alito than they were with Miers because of his conservative track record as a federal judge, prosecutor and a Reagan administration lawyer.
Miers had never been a judge.
The nomination got Bush on the good side again of conservative and anti-abortion groups, who declared Alito a winner after opposing Miers.
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family Action, said he was "extremely pleased," and the anti-abortion Operation: Rescue declared that the country was on "the fast-track to derailing Roe v. Wade as the law of the land."
Bush, who has seen his standing eroded by Iraq, rising fuel prices, hurricane mistakes and the indictment of a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, emphasized Alito's work on "thousands of appeals" and "hundreds of opinions."
Alito pledged to uphold the duty of a judge to "interpret the Constitution and the laws faithfully and fairly."
Democrats, however, are deeply suspicious of Alito, with Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the party's leader, wondering aloud "why those who want to pack the court with judicial activists are so much more enthusiastic about him" than Miers.
Alito upheld a requirement for spousal notification in an abortion case more than a decade ago, although Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter - an abortion rights Republican - insisted that doesn't mean Alito would rule to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established abortion rights.
Earlier this year, with O'Connor casting the deciding vote, the high court threw out a death sentence that Alito had upheld in the case of a man who argued that his lawyer had been ineffective.
Bush's first nominee this year, John Roberts, is now chief justice.