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Inquisitors v. Alito
Scripps Howard News Service


January 14, 2006

Poor Samuel Alito. He did not tell the Democratic senators who grilled him what they wanted to hear. He did not say he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if he made it to the Supreme Court, and that it would not matter a bit what the specific case was about or what the arguments were. And he did not tell them something else. He did not say he was a bigot.

That's what the first two days of nationally televised hearings of President Bush's nominee were about. The Democrats had one issue in mind above all others - abortion - and they wanted Alito to say something extreme enough to justify their pre-ordained opposition to him.

If you do what Alito did, if you do not give the Democrats something on the order of a confession that, deep down, you don't think women have any rights, you know what to expect. Pretty soon you will have Sen. Ted Kennedy in your face, doing his superb imitation of one of the louts sitting on the House Committee on Un-American Activities during its three-decade run beginning in the 1930s.

Those were the days when some congressmen were ruining lives by trying to show that their victims were once members of this or that group that just may have had an association with the Communist Party. They often exhibited a coarseness of manner equaled by a lack of brilliance. An illuminating moment came when a historically confused representative asked whether the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe was a commie, accounts of the committee tell us.

Kennedy's bugaboo was Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a now-defunct group expressing worries in the early 1970s on such matters as the university's overturning of its all-male tradition, kicking ROTC off campus and admitting minorities with lower academic accomplishments than required of non-minorities. Apparently, at least some of its members wrote some stuff that you would not want to hoist high in a parade down the center of town, but members of a group that Kennedy belongs to have done the same, and worse. You don't have to go back so awfully far to find some Democrats making unbelievably racist remarks.

Alito, for his part, says he doesn't remember joining the group, and that the ROTC question must have been what prompted him to do so. He denounced as wholly unacceptable the statements on women and minorities, and dozens who know him - liberals as well as conservatives - described both outside and in the hearings as a thoroughly decent human being without a bigoted bone in his body. You figure his wife at one point ran from the hearing room in tears, not because the inexcusable accusations as reviewed by a Republican senator struck her as true, but because she knew how terribly unfair and vicious the attack was.

Concerning abortion, Alito refused to say that the Roe v. Wade decision was settled law in the sense that it should never be reexamined. Yes, it has been around for more than 30 years now, but as was pointed out in the hearing, the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of "separate but equal" had been around for 58 years before being overturned in Brown v. Board of Education. It is noted that some of the nation's most highly regarded constitutional experts have said of Roe that there is no there there; the court in its ruling made no particularly convincing argument that the right it was asserting could be justified by the Constitution. If it were overturned, it has also been argued, most states would likely make few adjustments in their laws, and most of those adjustments would likely have to do with new restrictions only when the fetus is capable of living outside the womb.

Alito said as much as he needed to. His remarks demonstrated he is not convinced Roe is of the same stature as, say, the Brown decision requiring integration of public schools, but neither is he signaling that he is on the warpath to destroy Roe. His temperament, in other words, is judicious, prudent, restrained - what you want in a judge. The worst of his Democratic inquisitors, on the other hand, were absolutist, mean-spirited and underhanded - not what you want in senators.

At some point, Alito should have quoted Christopher Marlowe, just to see if he could get Kennedy to ask how Marlowe stood on a woman's right to abortion.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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