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Senator won't rule out Alito filibuster

But Feingold says tactic not planned

WASHINGTON -- Senator Russell D. Feingold said yesterday that he won't rule out a filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr., although he said no one in his party is actively planning to use the tactic.

''Certainly nobody I know is," said the Wisconsin Democrat, who is considered a possible Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. ''But I'm not going to take it off the table. It's my right as a senator and it's an important right."

Senators have been jousting lately over whether the minority Democrats are planning to filibuster Alito, who was nominated by President Bush to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said Sunday that he would move to eliminate judicial filibusters if Democratic launch one against Alito. Democrats in turn said they aren't planning a filibuster right now, although they refuse to say they won't try to start one.

''They cannot, as they have been doing now for more than six weeks, keep filibuster hopes alive by suggestions and hints, and then claim their political hands are clean when senators on this side of the aisle respond," Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a statement.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the Senate's senior Democrat, said Monday he didn't think there would be a filibuster of Alito.

''I think the talk about filibusters will just disappear," Frist said yesterday.

Alito's confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin Jan. 9, and Senate Republicans hope to have a confirmation vote by Jan. 20.

Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said yesterday in a letter to Alito that he would question Alito at the hearings on his feelings about overturning longtime precedents, the rights of criminal defendants, the use of statistical analysis in judicial decisions, and Alito's past decisions on religious expression.

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