Radical conservative judge ignored constitutional rights
Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito, a staunch conservative, replaced moderate Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Jan. 31. In his career as a judge, Alito's radical ideology has fueled an archaic, reactionary interpretation of the Constitution that he seems to value over the common good of the American people.
O'Connor was the "swing vote" and could side with either the four reliably conservative justices or the four consistently liberal justices in contentious cases. O'Connor was often in the majority in decisions with a one-vote margin and provided the tie-breaking vote in rulings affirming a woman's legal right to an abortion, upholding campaign finance laws limiting "soft money" contributions to political campaigns, allowing affirmative action in colleges and protecting the rights of the disabled. If newly confirmed Justice John Roberts proves to be as conservative as his late predecessor, William Rehnquist, Alito will occupy this position of extraordinary power. But, even if Roberts is more moderate, Alito will be a major force on the Court.
Alito's dissents on Third Circuit rulings give insight into his views and how he will rule on the Supreme Court. In the 1996 Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company case, Alito was the only justice of 11 to rule against a woman claiming she was forced to quit her job after a sexual harassment complaint. Alito demonstrated his aversion to punishing discriminatory companies once more in 1997, when he found that a woman claiming racial discrimination could not take her case to a jury. Yet again, no other judge joined him.
On the Third Circuit, Alito consistently ruled in favor of companies subverting environmental laws and edicts from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In an open letter to U.S. senators, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) described a decision in which Alito upheld industrial pollution of the environment. According to the NRDC, in 2001, Alito allowed W.R. Grace, a Michigan company, to circumvent an EPA plan to eliminate toxic pollutants from a Lansing, Michigan, aquifer. Rulings like these prompted many environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the National Environmental Trust, Earthjustice and Friends of the Earth to vigorously oppose Alito's confirmation in order to ensure the continued protection of the environment.
Pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood also took issue with Alito's confirmation because he has stated that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. In his Senate confirmation hearings, Alito denied that Roe is "settled law," directly contradicting Chief Justice John Roberts and other pro-life conservatives who have stated that they cannot ignore the judicial precedent supporting Roe. In a 1985 memo, Alito discussed "the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade and mitigating its effects," and went on to suggest convincing circuit courts that abortion restrictions they had struck down were, in fact, reasonable. Considering this, it seems very likely that Alito will use his newfound power on the Supreme Court to work towards weakening a woman's right to choose.
While Alito's dedicated opposition of abortion may be alarming, his most disturbing position came in the 2004 Doe v. Groody case, in which he ignored the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. Alito ruled that the police could strip-search a 10-year-old girl, stating that, even though their warrant did not name her, "a reasonable police officer could certainly have read the warrant as doing so." Thankfully, the Third Circuit as a whole disagreed with Alito.
Alito's record makes it clear that he has little respect for checks on executive power, either. According to The New Republic, in a 1986 Justice Department memo, Alito endorsed presidential signing statements, which allow the president to influence interpretation of a law by adding his own opinion to legislation he has signed.
Traditionally used as a tool for presidents to give their take on specific sections of a bill without issuing line-item or complete vetoes signing statements are being used by President Bush to "effectively nullify laws as they relate to the executive branch," according to former Presidential Counsel John W. Dean. The New Republic reported that Bush issued a signing statement smugly stating that he could ignore the law banning torture of enemy combatants. Even when presented with this example of Bush's misuse of signing statements in the Senate Confirmation Hearings, Alito refused to back down from his 1986 position. Alito's continued support of signing statements proves that he is not committed to the principle of checks and balances
Some may argue that the non-partisan American Bar Association (ABA) has given Alito its highest rating. But this rating only takes into account legal ability and the extent of judicial experience, both of which Alito has in abundance. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, the ABA stated that they did not investigate Alito's judicial philosophy, his ideology or how he may rule on certain cases. If the ABA had investigated how Alito's interpretation of the constitution is antithetical to the interest of Americans, the "well-qualified" rating would be difficult to justify.
Those opposing Roberts's confirmation had little to criticize because he had less judicial experience. As a result, Roberts won the support of many democratic senators and was confirmed by a 56-vote margin. In contrast, only four Democrats backed Alito, and one Republican voted against him. Those opposing Alito cited many cases that reveal him to be out of the mainstream — a radical who often finds himself without the support of even his fellow conservative judges.
Alito is not dangerous because he is a Republican nominated by a Republican president. He presents a threat because he has consistently ruled to the right of even conservatives against the environment, constitutional privacy guarantees and individuals subjected to discrimination. Alito now occupies a position of power and will shift the Supreme Court far to the right with his radically conservative ideology. His confirmation was an important victory for President Bush and Republican senators — but a devastating loss for the American people.
Jordan Fein. Jordan Fein is a magnet senior (woot!) who is enamored of politics and journalism. He is very politically active and enjoys talking politics with whomever is willing. Politics, politics, politics. He is looking forward to his second year of writing on Silver Chips and especially … More »