Alito Alert: Americans United Warns Senate That Bush Supreme Court Nominee Has Bad Record on Church and State

Article excerpt

Samuel A. Alito Jr. can hardly be described as a stealth candidate. Indeed, with a background that includes extensive work in the Reagan administration's Justice Department and 15 years on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, President George W. Bush's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court has a long legal track record.

And as the days passed after Bush's announcement of the nomination, Alito's record proved increasingly troubling to an array of civil liberties and civil rights groups. Judicial decisions and government actions by Alito deeply worried progressive leaders but were cheered by the president's Religious Right backers who want more justices in the mold of the high court's ultra-conservative members Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

By mid December, the news media and public interest groups, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, were reporting that Alito's legal record was a staunchly right-wing one.

"The more we learn about Judge Alito," a spokeswoman for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told The Washington Post in early December, "the more problematic this nomination becomes."

In mid November, The Washington Times broke the story about Alito's 1985 job application to become deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration. In a personal qualifications statement, Alito highlighted his work in the Reagan solicitor general's office and bragged about his political credentials.

"I am and always have been a conservative and an adherent to the same philosophical views that I believe are central to the Administration," Alito wrote.

Other comments in the document thrilled his Religious Right supporters and heightened the growing concerns of progressive groups.

Americans United, which formally announced opposition to the nomination Dec. 16, noted that the application is troubling and revealed that in 1985 Alito was already a staunch opponent of church-state separation and a proponent of limits on the reach of the judiciary.

"I believe strongly," Alito wrote, "in limited government, federalism, free enterprise, the supremacy of the elected branches of government, the need for a strong defense and effective law enforcement, and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values.

"In the field of law," he continued, "I disagree strenuously with the usurpation by the judiciary of decisionmaking authority.... The administration has already made major strides toward reversing this trend through its judicial appointments, litigation, and public debate, and it is my hope that even greater advances can be achieved during the second term, especially with Attorney General [Edwin] Meese's leadership at the Department of Justice."

Alito also cited William F. Buckley Jr. and his National Review, as having great influence on his views and noted that during college, he had "developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment."

Earl Warren, the 14th chief justice, led a high court from 1953 to 1969 that produced a raft of landmark cases that advanced civil rights and civil liberties in America. The best-known church-state decisions of that era are 1962's Engel v. Vitale and 1963's Abington v. Schempp, two important rulings that barred government-sponsored prayer, Bible reading and other devotions in public schools.

If Alito supports official worship in public schools, church-state experts say his confirmation to the high court would result in radical changes indeed.

Alito's job application also exposed some other controversial aspects of the judge's worldview. For example, he boasted that he was "particularly proud" of his work in the solicitor general's office, which had argued in numerous cases before the Supreme Court that "racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion. …