Much of the opposition to Samuel Alito stems from wishful thinking: If only he were like Sandra Day O'Connor, he'd deserve Senate confirmation to replace her on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Instead, opponents say, the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings and his own record reveal that Alito would shift the court's ideological balance, substituting a doctrinaire conservative for a pragmatic centrist. Articulating this line of thought, The New York Times said in an editorial Monday that senators who support Alito would "regret that they did not insist that O'Connor's seat be filled with someone who shared her cautious, centrist approach to the law."
That's an argument for a presidential campaign, not a confirmation proceeding. If President Bush wanted to name a centrist to the court, he would have done so. Instead, in two presidential elections he made clear his intention to steer the court rightward if given the opportunity. Bush is doing what he promised and, as conservatives' rebellion against the short-lived Harriet Miers nomination showed, his supporters expect no less.
Alito was cautious to the point of opacity in his responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as has become normal practice in confirmation hearings. Some of what little he did reveal is troubling. He has an expansive view of the power of the executive branch of government, embracing a "unitary executive" concept that empowers the presidency at the expense of Congress and the judiciary. He would almost certainly chip away at the court's precedents establishing a woman's right to choose an abortion. He has a cramped view of Congress' power to pass laws protecting consumers or public safety.
In all these respects, Alito's views plainly reflect the president's. That's why Bush chose him. If at this late date the Alito nomination were somehow derailed, Bush would undoubtedly seek another nominee whose ideas were similarly congruent with his own. Those who believe Bush should replace O'Connor with another centrist should have worked harder to elect a centrist president.
Though Alito is close to Bush in his ideology, he shows no signs of being an ideologue. His statements about the centrality of the rule of law, and about a judge's duty to disregard his own policy preferences in making decisions, were reassuringly convincing. Their credibility is enhanced by Alito's 16-year record as a judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes rulings upholding abortion rights, civil rights and civil liberties - not because he supported a particular result, but because he felt the law compelled a particular conclusion.
Senators have a right, even a responsibility, to oppose a nominee they believe is unfit. If there were doubts about Alito's competence, or if his legal philosophy showed signs of being outside the mainstream of conservative thought, a vote to oppose the nomination would be justified. But there are no serious doubts of this kind. The American Bar Association has rated Alito as "highly qualified" after an exhaustive review of his work as a judge.
Some senators, mostly Democrats, would have preferred that Bush had nominated someone else. What they'd really prefer is that someone else were president. But that question was settled in 2000 and again four years later. The Senate Judiciary Committee, when it votes today, and the full Senate, which is expected to act before Bush's State of the Union speech on Jan. 31, should vote to confirm Alito.
Supporters and opponents alike can use his presence on the Supreme Court as a reminder of why elections matter.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; He's qualified, and represents Bush's views|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jan 24, 2006|
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