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Anti-Alito filibuster soundly defeated

Final confirmation of Supreme Court nominee expected Tuesday

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Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is expected to be approved by the Senate Tuesday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Judge Samuel Alito stands just one step away from a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court after a spirited ninth-inning campaign by some Democratic senators to block his nomination fizzled Monday evening.

The final vote on Alito's nomination is now scheduled for Tuesday morning, and, with at least 57 senators on board, approval is virtually assured.

Alito's supporters in the Senate, as expected, cleared the final roadblock Monday when senators, by a vote of 72-25, decided to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote, rebuffing an attempt by a cadre of liberal senators to talk the nomination to death.

The vote easily exceeded the 60 votes needed to pass the motion. (What is a filibuster?)

In the end, only 24 of the chamber's 44 Democrats went along with the filibuster, a maneuver allowed under Senate rules to block a vote by extending debate indefinitely. It was also supported by the chamber's lone independent, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

Arguing against cutting off debate, Sen. John Kerry -- who spearheaded the filibuster effort with his fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Ted Kennedy -- said Alito's record during his 15 years on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has given "the extreme right wing unbelievable public cause for celebration."

"That just about tells you what you need to know," Kerry said. "The vote today is whether or not we will take a stand against ideological court-packing."

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the move to cut off debate fulfilled a "very straightforward principle -- a nominee with the support of a majority of senators deserves a fair up-or-down vote."

"The sword of the filibuster has been sheathed because we are placing principle before politics, and results before rhetoric," Frist said.

The White House released a statement from President Bush hailing Monday's vote and saying he was looking forward to Alito's confirmation.

"I am pleased that a strong, bipartisan majority in the Senate decisively rejected attempts to obstruct and filibuster an up-or-down vote," Bush said.

The motion to cut off debate drew the support of 53 Republicans and 19 Democrats, including all 14 senators who signed on to an agreement last year that ended a series of Democratic filibusters of Bush's judicial nominations.

The so-called Gang of 14 included seven Democrats and seven Republicans.

The Democrats agreed not to support judicial filibusters except under "extraordinary circumstances," which would be up to each senator to define. In return, the GOP members agreed not to support any attempt by Republican leaders to change Senate rules to permanently end the practice.

Among the 24 Democrats who supported the filibuster were five senators being mentioned as possible 2008 White House contenders -- Kerry, who lost to Bush in 2004; Hillary Clinton of New York; Evan Bayh of Indiana; Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; and Joe Biden of Delaware.

The Senate's top two Democrats, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, also supported the Kerry-Kennedy filibuster effort.

Confirmation expected

With debate now over, the final vote on Alito's nomination is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday. With at least four Democrats and 53 Republicans in favor, confirmation is all but guaranteed.

At least 37 Democrats and Jeffords have announced they will vote no. Only one of the Senate's 55 Republicans has come out against Alito's confirmation -- Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a moderate facing re-election this fall in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

"I am a pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-Bill of Rights Republican, and I will be voting against this nomination," Chafee said in a statement.

Another moderate GOP senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, said she has not yet taken a position on Alito's nomination, but she criticized the filibuster effort.

The four Democrats who have said they will vote for Alito are Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Kent Conrad of North Dakota. All four represent states Bush carried in both 2000 and 2004.

If confirmed as expected, Alito, 55, will replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate swing vote and the first woman appointed to the high court.

On the Senate floor, Kerry said Alito's nomination poses a threat "to the balance that the Supreme Court has upheld in all the years that Justice O'Connor has served there."

"This nomination is an extraordinary circumstance," he said. "What could possibly be more important than an entire shift in the direction of the Supreme Court of the United States?"

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