With Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Samuel Alito set to begin on Monday January 9, leading Senators on the committee held press events yesterday. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) focused on Alito’s views on the unfettered power of the Executive Branch. Kennedy, especially given the times, was concerned with warrant-less wiretapping and the use of torture. In his press briefing he also discussed Alito’s record on women’s rights.
“There is a big hill to climb for this nominee,” explained Senator Kennedy, expressing concerns about Alito’s extensive written record as a judge on the Third Circuit and including a series of documents from Alito’s time as a lawyer with the Reagan Administration. “The question is whether a regular person is going to be able to get a fair shake.”
Kennedy commented in particular on Alito’s record of rulings against women in sex discrimination cases on the Third Circuit. “If you study the record in terms of women in employment, you would be hard pressed to find a case where he came down on the side of a woman employee,” he said.
Senator Kennedy also pointed out that in Alito’s1985 job application to obtain a promotion in the Reagan Administration’s Solicitor General’s office, Alito touted his membership in a group openly hostile to the admission of women and minorities at Princeton (Concerned Alumni of Princeton). Alito joined this reactionary group at a time when Princeton was opening its doors to women for the first time and expanding opportunities for minorities, and, despite the extreme views of the group he never separated himself from the group. (Two other Princetonian senators – former Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) – both did.)
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), speaking at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress and the American Constitution Society on the Hill, also focused on executive power, warrant-less wiretapping, and personal autonomy and choice. Schumer is very concerned about Alito’s narrow interpretation of Congressional authority under the Commerce Clause, which led to his out-of-the-mainstream decision that Congress did not have the power to pass a law restricting possession of machine guns.
Schumer highlighted statements made by Alito in his 1985 job application stating his pride in his contributions to cases arguing that the Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion. Alito stated in that application, “It has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction to meÉ to serve in the Office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan’s administration and to help advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly,” and stated that he was “particularly proud” of “contributions in recent cases in which the government has arguedÉthat the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”
Although these statements have been widely reported, Senator Schumer emphasized an extremely important point, about the significance of these statements – they are clear statements of Alito’s legal views on the Constitutionality of a woman’s right to choose abortion, not merely personal views on abortion.
“What Judge Alito articulated in his 1985 job application was a legal view, not a personal view. It may have been a personal legal view, meaning it’s his own legal view, but it’s a legal view,” said Schumer. “He is not saying: I am pro-choice or I am pro-life. He is saying he believes Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional. The only other Supreme Court nominee that I’m aware who said that was Mr. Bork.”
Of course, the nomination of Robert Bork was defeated by the Senate in 1987, thanks in part to a campaign waged by progressives and women’s rights activists committed to preserving the future of women’s rights.