Alito & Armageddon

Commonweal, November 18, 2005 | Go to article overview

Alito & Armageddon


Despite threatening disarray on nearly all fronts, President George W. Bush moved quickly and with characteristic political focus to nominate Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to replace Harriet Miers as his choice for the seat on the Supreme Court that will eventually be vacated by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

What remains unclear is how badly damaged Bush has been by the indictment of the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in the CIA leak case as well as the forced withdrawal of Miers's Supreme Court bid. Both were blows to Bush's once invincible hold on the nation's political agenda, an authority now undermined by his foundering domestic and foreign policies. Most surprising was the fact that Miers's problematic nomination was derailed by a rebellion among the president's most articulate and ideological conservative supporters, who demanded he nominate a candidate with strict, and well-known, constructionist or "originalist" views on constitutional interpretation. If the celebratory reaction among conservatives is any indication, the president has done precisely that in putting forward the "reliable" Judge Alito.

Like Chief Justice John Roberts, Alito's credentials and personal integrity are hard to fault. Given the delicate balance among the justices on the most neuralgic issues likely to come before the Court, the Alito nomination has predictably given liberal groups, especially abortion-rights advocates, apoplexy. Opponents point to an Alito dissent as an appeals court judge that upheld a provision of a Pennsylvania law, eventually ruled unconstitutional in the Supreme Court's bitterly contested Casey decision, which would have required a married woman to notify her husband before getting an abortion. Abortion-rights groups see Alito's dissent as a clear indication of his hostility to Roe, and as evidence, moreover, of a patronizing and anachronistic attitude toward women. Alito, however, argued that the state could require such spousal notification given the unique legal status of marriage. Whatever one thinks about the practical impact and admittedly complicated circumstances that might rightly limit notification requirements, abortion-rights groups should hesitate before championing a law that appears to elevate personal autonomy over the mutuality and shared obligations marriage entails, and that the state has every reason to encourage and protect.

Alito's proven qualifications, modest demeanor, and carefully crafted rulings have been praised by Democrats and Republicans alike. …

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