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Alito sworn in as nation's 110th Supreme Court justice

Senate confirms nominee 58-42 after filibuster fails

At his State of the Union speech, President Bush greets the newly sworn-in Justice Alito.




Supreme Court
Samuel Alito

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Samuel Alito was sworn in as the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice Tuesday after being confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 58-42.

The vote was the closest confirmation for a nominee since Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed 52-48 in 1991.

The confirmation vote came a day after an attempt by some Democratic senators to block his nomination fizzled.

Alito was sworn in at the Supreme Court, just hours before President Bush's State of the Union address. He joined Chief Justice John Roberts and other justices in the House chamber for Tuesday night's speech.

Judge Alito will be ceremonially sworn into office Wednesday in the East Room of the White House.

Alito watched the Senate vote from the Roosevelt Room of the White House with President Bush and his wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner.

Only one of the Senate's 55 Republicans voted against Alito's confirmation -- Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a moderate facing re-election this fall in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

The four Democrats who broke party ranks and voted 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 of the states represented by the senators were carried by Bush in both 2000 and 2004.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, condemned the "very bitter partisanship" over Alito's nomination and blamed Democrats for playing politics. "When you have a man who has the decency, the legal ability and the capacities that Judge Alito has treated this way, I think it's despicable," Hatch said.

Alito, 55, replaces retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate swing vote and the first woman appointed to the high court.

At a Republican news conference following Alito's confirmation, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona praised fellow O'Connor for her service and noted "she is being replaced by an exceptional jurist."

Filibuster ended

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 to end debate, called a cloture 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 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.

CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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