A judge who opposed legalised abortion and gay rights has been appointed to the Supreme Court in the USA.

Samuel Alito, President George Bush’s second Supreme Court pick, narrowly won confirmation in the tightest race victory since Clarence Thomas was appointed to the court in 1991.

Mr Alito opposed legalised abortion and gay rights as a young lawyer but now says he will approach the issues with an “open mind,” won his seat with a 58-42 Senate vote.

The vote was mostly along party lines. According to USA Today, Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska were the only Democrats to support Alito. Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was the only Republican to vote against confirmation.

“A vote for this nomination is a vote against maintaining the fundamental rights and liberties of ordinary Americans,” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said before the vote. “It’s a crucial nomination, one that can tip the Supreme Court radically.”

During the confirmation hearings, Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) questioned Mr Alito on his 2001 vote on the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down a public school policy that prohibited discrimination toward people based on sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.

In the case, Mr Alito ruled that the First Amendment only protects people against harassment regarding religious beliefs.

Mr Feingold asked during the hearings whether he felt the First Amendment might also protect gay students against harassment. He said only that the policy he struck down read the amendment too broadly.

But Mr Alito then noted that in another case he had ruled in favour of a New Jersey student who wanted attend a high school outside of his neighbourhood because he had been subjected to homophobic harassment.

“With the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Alito, Americans are threatened with an unprecedented erosion of our rights,” Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Joe Solmonese said following the confirmation. “Our opportunity to get back on the road to equality comes this November. The senators who stepped up today to protect fairness by voting against Judge Alito’s confirmation were acting on America’s fundamental promise of equality. It’s time the halls of Congress were packed with fair-minded leaders.”

© 2006 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved.