Supreme Court: Tune in; A TV Guide to the Alito Hearings
Taylor, Stuart, Jr., Thomas, Evan, Newsweek
Byline: Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas
The senate confirmation hearings for a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court are rarely a process of straightforward questions and answers. A potential Supreme Court justice cannot promise to vote a certain way on hot-button issues like abortion and school prayer--the hearings would degenerate into a crude bargaining process, with nominees trying to buy off the votes of senators by promising to vote their way. As a result, both sides tend to speak in code. When the Samuel A. Alito Jr. confirmation hearings begin Monday, TV viewers are going to need a translator.
For example, Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will probably begin by quizzing Alito about stare decisis (rough Latin meaning: "let the decision stand"), the judicial rule under which the Supreme Court follows its own precedents--until five or more justices want to junk one of them. A moderate, pro-choice Republican, Specter wants Alito to affirm the court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that created a woman's right to an abortion. So Specter's first question might be: "Judge Alito, could you tell us your philosophy toward stare decisis?" Translation: Can I get you to promise--or even hint--that you will leave the abortion ruling alone?
Judge Alito will try to appear completely noncommittal--without appearing to be unduly evasive. He will go on and on, as Chief Justice John Roberts did at his hearings last September, about the factors he would consider in deciding whether to overturn a precedent. …