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On abortion, a nuanced stand

In 3 of 4 cases, Supreme Court nominee Alito voted on the side of abortion rights.

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If there was any doubt about where US Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito stands on abortion, his 90-year-old mother quickly and decisively put that question to rest.

"Of course he's against abortion," Rose Alito told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from her Hamilton, N.J., home.

Her candid statement may go down in history as the most blunt and honest admission of a Supreme Court nominee's view on the hot-button issue.

But the true test of appeals court judges isn't which personal views they hold, but to what extent those personal views may influence how they rule in a particular case.

On this issue, legal analysts disagree in their assessments of Judge Alito. Some say he is a conservative ideologue. Others say he is a smart, careful jurist who leaves personal views behind when he dons his black robes.

The best evidence of his work as a judge are his published opinions. They contain a few surprises and some ammunition - for both the left and the right.

For example, of the four abortion cases in which he participated as an appeals court judge, he voted on the pro-choice side in all but one. A 1995 Alito vote striking down a Pennsylvania abortion restriction in particular is raising eyebrows among some legal scholars.

"That [1995 case] strongly seems to indicate that Alito is not a policy-driven true-believer who's used every possible opportunity to advance one side's preferred outcome, but instead a judge who has indeed come down on both sides, in different cases," says David Garrow, a constitutional historian and expert in reproductive rights cases at the high court.

Senate investigators, legal scholars, and special interest group lawyers are poring over Judge Alito's opinions written during 15-years of work on the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals. They are looking for clues of what kind of justice Alito might become if confirmed to a life-tenure post on the nation's highest court.

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