President George W. Bush, stung by the rejection of his first choice, nominated a conservative judge to fill a critical vacancy Monday in a bid to reshape America's top court, mollify his political base and help lift the White House out of the lowest point of the Bush presidency.
The nomination of Samuel Alito was expected to lead to a political brawl with minority Democrats, who warned that the nominee may be an extremist.
If confirmed by the Republican-led Senate, Alito would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate who often served as the swing vote on the most divisive issues in American society, including abortion and death penalty cases.
Alito's nomination is one step in Bush's political recovery plan as he tries to regain his footing after a cascade of troubles. His approval rating in the polls has tumbled to the lowest point of his presidency and Americans are unhappy about high energy prices, the costly war in Iraq and economic doubts. Bush also has been hit by a criminal investigation that led to charges against the top aid of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Those problems were compounded by the furor over Bush's first choice for the court seat, Bush's lawyer Harriet Miers. Conservatives denounced Miers as unqualified and questioned her ideology, forcing her to withdraw the nomination last week.
Most of Bush's conservative backers welcomed the choice of Alito. Unlike Miers, who has never been a judge, Alito has been a strong conservative voice on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia since Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, seated him there in 1990.
Alito "has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in 70 years," Bush said.
So consistently conservative, Alito has been dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But while Scalia is outspoken and is known to badger lawyers, Alito is polite, reserved and even-tempered.
Alito favors more restrictions on abortion rights than either the Supreme Court has allowed or O'Connor has supported, based on a 1992 case in which he supported spousal notification.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who had jumped to the support of Miers, promised to give Alito a "hard look." Democrats have used procedural tactics to block judicial nominations they view as too extreme.
"The Senate needs to find out if the man replacing Miers is too radical for the American people," he said.
Wasting no time, the White House arranged for Alito to go to the Congress after the announcement to meet senators. Bush said he wanted Alito confirmed by year's end, the AP informs.
The White House hopes the choice mends a rift in the Republican Party caused by the Miers nomination. Polls show most Democrats and most independents don't approve of his job performance, leaving the conservative wing of his party the only thing keeping Bush afloat politically.