Sen. Robert C. Byrd

U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., says Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito respects the right of Americans to express their religious beliefs in public places.

"With regard to religious expression, I have, for a long time, felt that the courts give too much weight to the part of the First Amendment ["Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."] and not enough weight to the second clause ["...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"]. I was very satisfied with what Judge Alito had to say about that First Amendment," Byrd said after the meeting. "He indicated that he felt that the people have a very distinct right to express their religious views. We're a very diverse nation, and there is room for all kinds of viewpoints here. People should have the right to express their views of religion."

Byrd visited with Judge Alito for nearly 90 minutes in early November shortly after Alito was nominated. Their conversation focused on the First Amendment, the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, the intent of the Constitution's Framers on the separation of powers, and the line-item veto. Byrd also talked about the importance of the Constitution in protecting the people's liberties.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Byrd made no announcement about how he will vote on confirmation.

"Overall, I was very impressed with his intellect, with respect to the powers of the branches of government, the law, and the Constitution. He's certainly well fitted in that regard for the Supreme Court. But I want to hear more, I want to read more. I'm not going to make up my mind that fast," Byrd said.

"I take my responsibilities seriously. We in the Senate have to weigh very heavily the pros and cons of this nominee. I took a lot of time with him. I fully explored his views with respect to the separation of powers, the line-item veto, and the First Amendment right to express our religion. I was very satisfied overall with the nominee's responses," Byrd said.

The West Virginia Democrat noted that Judge Alito also discussed the importance of judicial precedent, especially on statutory issues.

"He expressed strong support for 'stare decisis' -- 'let the decision stand.' That's important, for a Justice on the Supreme Court needs to have respect for precedent and earlier Court rulings," Byrd said.

Earlier, Byrd had met with other moderate Democratic and Republican Senators about the Alito nomination. The coalition of seven Democratic Senators and seven Republican Senators -- nicknamed the "Group of 14" -- earlier this year averted a parliamentary meltdown in the U.S. Senate over President Bush's judicial nominees.

"It is imperative that the American people have faith in the Justices of the Supreme Court. To help ensure that belief, the Senate needs to do all that it can to avoid extreme partisan confirmation battles. I am proud of the work of the centrist coalition, and look forward to further discussions with the group," Byrd said.

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