(by Brian McGuire, Jan. 10, 2006, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito can expect severe questioning from a bloc of Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week in a confirmation hearing that promises to be the most openly partisan in nearly two decades. The committee will begin a grueling three days of questioning today on issues ranging from abortion to civil liberties to Judge Alito’s past association with conservative groups.
In particular, Democrats are expected to zero in on a handful of decisions and a 1985 job application by the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge in an effort to cast him as routinely siding with corporations over employees, presidential power over civil liberties, and majorities over minorities. They also will question Judge Alito’s integrity by citing his participation in a case that involved a mutual fund company in which he had invested.
Democrats made their case against Judge Alito before questioning began, outlining their concerns in 10-minute opening statements. They said Judge Alito faces heightened scrutiny because of the seat he has been asked to fill. Justice O’Connor, who is retiring, has been the swing vote in roughly three-quarters of the 5-4 decisions on the Supreme Court since 1995. Yet one after another, they portrayed Judge Alito’s 15-year judicial record as extreme.
“Judge Alito, in case after case after case, you give the impression of applying a careful legal reasoning, but too many times you happen to reach the most conservative result,” Senator Schumer, a Democrat of New York, said. “You give the impression of being a meticulous legal navigator, but in the end, you always seem to chart a rightward course.”
Twenty-two Democrats voted for Chief Justice Roberts, who replaced a conservative on the bench. But the minority party is likely to yield fewer votes for Judge Alito, who was nominated after a previous choice to replace Justice O’Connor, Harriet Miers, withdrew. Mr. Schumer said Judge Alito’s burden is “triply high” because of the seat he has been asked to fill, the circumstances that led to the withdrawal of Ms. Miers, and his judicial record.
Republicans, meanwhile, charged Democrats with applying a new standard to Judge Alito, and they pledged to defend him throughout the hearing. The committee’s chairman, Senator Specter, of Pennsylvania, described opening statements by Democrats as “indictments.” He said Democrats offered a “very selective reading” of Judge Alito’s opinions, and he called on his colleagues to “give the man a chance to speak his piece.”
Some Republican advocates said they were particularly upset by the opening statement of Senator Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts. They cited Mr. Kennedy’s assertion that Judge Alito has not written a single opinion favoring a minority who had alleged race discrimination on the job. Soon after the comment was made, Republican staffers circulated a document listing four occasions in which Judge Alito had sided with a minority in such a case.
“Everything is pretty much what we expected, except that Kennedy is far worse than we expected,” the legal counsel for the Judicial Confirmation Network, Wendy Long, said. “I mean he was just way off the reservation. You expected some of the others to set up questions that they will ask later on, but Kennedy’s statement was different in kind. He just misstated the facts about Alito’s record.”
Several Democrats raised concerns about Judge Alito’s stated support, during a 2000 Federalist Society convention, for broad presidential powers. Citing a recently disclosed National Security Agency surveillance program, they said they fear Judge Alito might give the president a blank check to spy on Americans. Senator Feingold, the lone member of the Senate to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, said that Judge Alito’s “instinct seems to be to grant prosecutors whatever they seek.” Mr. Feingold, of Wisconsin, voted in favor of Chief Justice Roberts.
Judge Alito’s past professional and academic associations will also come into play. On his application for a job in the Department of Justice in 1985, Judge Alito said he was a member a member of Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that criticized what it viewed as eroding admissions standards and which is said to have raised questions about opening up admission to women. Judge Alito said in a recent Judiciary Committee questionnaire that he does not recall being a member of the group. Mr. Kennedy chose to believe the earlier statement of admission, calling it “troubling.”
A veteran of several Supreme Court hearings and the president of the liberal organization People for the American Way, Ralph Neas, said he expects the hearing to be contentious. Mr. Neas helped sink a conservative nominee from the Reagan administration, Robert Bork, in 1987.
“I think it’s going to be a very spirited exchange for the next several days,” Mr. Neas said. “I think the Democratic senators made clear that the burden is on the nominee and that they have a lot of concerns and a lot of doubts based on his judicial record and his time at the Department of Justice.”
Mr. Specter, who voted against Mr. Bork in committee, said he has not decided on Judge Alito. Yet, in citing the recommendation of several other judges, Mr. Specter seemed inclined toward this nominee. He also secured an endorsement of Judge Alito from a former governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman, following her introduction of Judge Alito to the committee.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
Partisan is defined as “partial to a particular party or person, often political in nature. One criticism of federal politics, especially regarding Congress, is that some politicians spend more time and effort trying to promote their party’s platform than trying to develop laws and policies which serve the American people.” (HistoryCentral.com)
1. Do you think that the Senate Judiciary Committe hearings for Judge Alito should be partisan? Explain your answer.
2. During Judge Alito’s confirmation hearings, whom will Democrats attempt to show that he favors in his rulings? (give 3 examples from para. 2)
3. Why does Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer say that Judge Alito’s burden is “triply high”?
4. Read the overview of “Nominating Federal Judges” below. At what stage of the nominating process is Judge Alito?
5. One of the reasons Democrats have for opposing Judge Alito is that they say he might overturn Roe v. Wade to make abortion illegal. How might the support of Republican Christie Todd Whitman for Judge Alito dispel their fears?
6. Democrats say they oppose Judge Alito because he is viewed as a conservative and (based on his 15 years as a judge), they believe he will make his court rulings based on his personal philosophies. Republicans say they support Judge Alito because (based on his 15 years as a judge), he is a constitutionalist, who therefore will not make his court rulings based on his personal philosophies, but rather on what the constitution says.
Judge Alito pledged commitment to the rule of law, saying “a judge can’t have an agenda.”
Do you think he is sincere? Do you support constitutionalist or activist judges? Explain your answers.
- Judicial activism is “the act of replacing an impartial interpretation of existing law with the judge’s personal feelings about what the law should be” (wikipedia.org)
- A constitutionalist “refers those who advocate strict adherence to the intentions of the framers of the U.S. Constitution” (wikipedia.org)
NOMINATING FEDERAL JUDGES – AN OVERVIEW*
1) President selects potential candidates, usually with the advice from White House Counsel.
2) President usually interviews or meets with the candidates for the Supreme Court in private. While the public is frequently aware of these meetings, the contents of the meetings are usually not disclosed. Occasionally, the name of a nominee is unofficially leaked to the press.
3) The White House Counsel or other senior administration official will meet with federal judicial nominees. The president may or may not meet with a federal judicial nominee.
4) President submits the name(s) to the Senate.
5) In some cases, interest groups will run advertisements in favor of or against a nominee, usually at the Supreme Court level. These public relations campaigns are aimed at convincing the public and the Senate to support or oppose the Supreme Court (or federal judicial) nominee.
6) Senate Judiciary Committee holds a committee hearing in which the committee members question the nominee and other witnesses (such as friends and previous co-workers) about the nominee’s background and qualifications. These hearings are televised and segments are frequently shown on news programs. All Senators have access to transcripts and tapes of the hearings. (Before the hearing, both committee staff and the FBI will have completed an extensive background check on the nominee. This check will ensure that the nominee has paid his taxes, has not been convicted of a serious crime, is a person of good standing in his/her community, etc.)
7) Senate Judiciary Committee, led by the chairperson, holds a vote on whether or not to recommend the nominee for confirmation.
8) Full Senate votes on whether or not to confirm the nominee. A simple majority (51 votes or more) is required. However, filibusters by the minority party can prevent a vote on a judicial nomination from coming to the floor. …Since it takes 60 votes to cut off a filibuster and no one party has had that many members, it is a powerful tool used by the minority party to block a nomination. Such tactics are often criticized by the majority party as unconstitutional.
9) If the full Senate votes to confirm by 51 votes or more, the nominee is confirmed.
*from “Nominating Federal Judges” Lesson Plan by Rebecca Small, Herndon High School, AP Government Teacher
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