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Justice Alito casts his first vote

First day includes death row appeal, swearing-in ceremony

From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau

SPECIAL REPORT

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Supreme Court
Samuel Alito
John Roberts

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In his first day on the job, Justice Samuel Alito broke ranks Wednesday night with the Supreme Court's conservatives by refusing to allow Missouri to execute death-row inmate Michael Taylor.

Alito sided with five other liberal and moderate justices in rejecting a second request to allow the state of Missouri to execute Taylor.

The justices voted 6-3 Wednesday night to turn down the last-minute request for a midnight execution. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported allowing the execution to proceed.

Taylor was sentenced to death for the 1989 kidnapping, rape and stabbing death of 15-year-old Ann Harrison in Kansas City, Missouri.

An initial vote in the Taylor case came Wednesday afternoon, when all the justices rejected Missouri's effort to immediately end a stay of execution for Taylor.

Also earlier in the day, Alito was at the White House for a second, ceremonial, swearing-in for the cameras. (Watch Justice Alito's swearing in ceremony -- 7:52)

The justice said he was "overwhelmed by the occasion."

He added, "I simply pledge to do everything in my power to live up to the trust placed in me."

President Bush said he is confident his nominee "will make a superb justice on the United States Supreme Court."

Six justices attend ceremony

Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath, witnessed by Justices Antonin Scalia, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Others attending included Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers, who was originally tapped by Bush to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Miers withdrew after criticism from conservatives over her judicial credentials, and went on to help in the Alito selection process. Alito thanked her during the ceremony.

Tuesday also was a whirlwind of activity for the 55-year-old jurist: a 58-42 confirmation vote; a private, official swearing-in at the Supreme Court; an appearance at President Bush's State of the Union address and the initial demands of the court's never-ending caseload.

In his first official legal business as an associate justice, Alito backed out of participating in two emergency applications from inmates facing execution in Texas and Florida.

Alito will spend the next few days moving into O'Connor's former office and hiring a staff, including law clerks. The court is in the middle of a four-week recess, and oral arguments do not resume until February 21.

Key cases ahead

In coming weeks, the former federal appeals court judge and the other justices will have several important appeals and cases awaiting them:

  • A request from the Bush administration over a federal ban on a late-term abortion procedure that critics call "partial birth." Several federal courts have struck down the law as unconstitutional and have blocked it from going into effect.
  • A request to review a case testing the president's power to hold U.S. citizens as "enemy combatants" in a wartime setting. Until recently, terrorism suspect Jose Padilla was held in military custody without charges.
  • Oral arguments in several high-profile cases, including congressional redistricting in Texas, the rights of suspected terrorists held overseas facing U.S. military tribunals, restriction of development near environmentally sensitive wetlands and the use of lethal injection for death-row inmates.
  • Alito joins the court in midterm. The court already has heard arguments and issued rulings in a number of cases, creating potential problems. If there is a deadlock in pending cases, Alito may be asked to break the tie, or the cases could be reheard with him in the fall.

    The Senate confirmed Alito Tuesday on a mostly partisan vote after weeks of criticism over his judicial record by Democrats and liberal interest groups. A last-minute attempt by several senators to delay a final vote failed to materialize. (Full story)

    Private ceremony Tuesday

    Bush nominated him October 31 to fill the vacancy when O'Connor announced she would step down. She and several other justices, including Stephen Breyer, were on hand after Tuesday's vote when Alito took the constitutional and judicial oaths in a private ceremony in the court's conference room.

    Chief Justice John Roberts swore in Alito, allowing him to begin his work immediately as a member of the Supreme Court. Alito's wife, Martha-Ann, also attended.

    Wearing their judicial robes, Breyer and Justice Clarence Thomas joined Roberts and Alito at the president's address Tuesday night.

    Bush drew applause when he praised the court's newest justices: "The Supreme Court now has two superb new members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito. I thank the Senate for confirming both of them. And I will continue to nominate men and women who understand that judges must be servants of the law and not legislate from the bench." (Full story)

    On Wednesday, the high court announced new circuit assignments for the justices. Each is assigned at least one of 13 areas of the country and federal government where emergency applications and other appeals originate.

    Alito will hear such cases from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. He most recently was a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit of Appeals, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but Justice David Souter will continue to have control over that area.

    Alito will sit on the far right of the bench during oral arguments, the traditional spot for the junior justice. His neighbor will be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a member of the high court since 1993.

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