By Thomas Ferraro Fri Jan 27, 3:22 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said on Friday he and fellow Democrats lack the votes to block President George W. Bush's nomination of conservative appeals judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The concession reinforced the virtual certainty that Alito will be confirmed next week by the full Republican-led Senate on a largely party-line vote. Alito joining the nation's highest court could move it to the right on abortion and other social issues.
"Everyone knows there is not enough votes to support a filibuster," Reid said, referring to the procedural roadblock that some Democrats wanted to use to put off a vote on Alito.
The Nevada Democrat said, however, he would vote for such a measure to at least send a message. That vote will come on Monday with a Senate confirmation vote expected on Tuesday.
"I think it is an opportunity for people to express their opinion as to what a bad choice it was to replace (retiring Justice) Sandra Day O'Connor" with Alito, Reid told reporters after a speech.
Sen. John Kerry, who joined fellow Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy on Thursday in calling for a filibuster, returned from a trip to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to make his case in the Senate.
"The critical question here is why are we so compelled to accept, in such a rush, a nominee who has so clearly been chosen for political and ideological reasons," said Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential election to Bush.
Kerry's call the day before for Democratic senators to block the nomination drew ridicule from the White House.
"This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
"Maybe Senator Kerry needs to be spending more time in the United States Senate so he can refresh his memory on Senate rules," McClellan said. "The Senate rules say you have to have the votes in order to filibuster."
SOME DEMOCRATS SIDE WITH REPUBLICANS
Sixty votes will be needed to end debate on Alito and move to a final vote. Republicans, who hold 55 of the 100 Senate seats, seem certain to reach that number with the help of as many as 10 Democrats, a top Democratic aide said.
If approved by a majority in the final vote in the full Senate, Alito, a federal appeals judge since 1990, would replace O'Connor, a moderate conservative who has often been the swing vote on the court on abortion, civil rights and other social issues.
Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, an abortion-rights defender, became the 53rd Republican to announce he will vote for Alito. Stevens rejected fears that Alito would seek to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, noting the nominee vowed to respect legal precedent.
Three of the 44 Senate Democrats have said they intend to vote for Alito, with most of the others set to oppose him.
Liberal advocacy groups, traditional Democratic allies, have favored a filibuster, which would be an extraordinary move against a Supreme Court nominee backed by a majority of the Senate.
There has been a sharp division within Democratic ranks regarding such a move, with some arguing it would help rally backers for the November congressional elections, a top party aide said. But others fear it may backfire and portray Democrats as politically minded obstructions, the aide said.
Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, emerged from a meeting with Alito saying he was not ready to announce how he would vote. But, he said, "I have decided that I will not participate in a filibuster."
Conrad pointed out that the American Bar Association had given Alito its highest rating, polls show most Americans support him, and that "elections have consequences."
Bush won two terms as president, promising to put conservatives on the Supreme Court. Last year he chose conservative John Roberts to be chief justice of the court.