Law faculty react to Alito

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito LAW ’75′s confirmation hearings, which began noon Monday, elicited mixed reactions among Yale Law School students and professors — two of whom will deliver testimony on the nominee before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

The first day of hearings included opening statements by Alito and the 18 committee members. The hearings will continue this week as the senators question Alito and hear legal experts, including former Law School Dean Anthony Kronman LAW ’75 and professor Ronald Sullivan, discuss the federal appeals judge’s record on the bench.

“A judge can’t have any agenda, a judge can’t have any preferred outcome in any particular case, and a judge certainly doesn’t have a client,” Alito said in his opening statements Monday, as transcribed by Congressional Quarterly. “The judge’s only obligation — and it’s a solemn obligation — is to the rule of law. And what that means is that in every single case, the judge has to do what the law requires.”

Discussion today gave committee members who have expressed both support and concern for Alito’s appointment a chance to lay out their positions. Early disputes foreshadowed possible areas of contention on Alito’s record, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he will deliver testimony on Alito’s Fourth Amendment record of search and seizure cases — which he said convey Alito’s tendency to hold the government’s authority above civil rights.

“Distilled to its essence, I’m going to say that on my read of Judge Alito’s opinions, he demonstrates an insufficient concern for individual privacy, individual dignity and individual rights,” Sullivan said. “His opinions clearly privilege the government’s interests to the exclusion of civil liberties.”

Although he declined to elaborate on the specifics of his coming testimony, Kronman, who will argue in support of Alito’s appointment, said he hopes the hearings will be conducted in a rigorous manner.

“I hope that this confirmation process, whatever the outcome, is, unlike some others that we have seen, intellectually serious and careful, and I expect it will be,” Kronman said.

Some critics of Alito said they are troubled by his opinions in cases involving executive authority and abortion rights.

Yale Law School professor Robert Gordon said he believes Alito has pushed forward a radical agenda by increments in his decisions, though his rhetoric is moderate.

“I would describe him as a cautious extremist, that he is very moderate in tone and style,” Gordon said. “He’s not rhetorically extreme, but he has an agenda. I actually expect that Alito on the Court would be the furthest right judge on the Court, except for [Justice Clarence] Thomas.”

According to Yale Federalist Society president Joshua Hawley LAW ’06, Alito’s record demonstrates a clear adherence to Supreme Court precedents, and criticisms leveled at Alito have been partisan.

“Judge Alito has a very consistent record of being a faithful jurist as opposed to a legislator,” Hawley said. “He is a very circumspect, careful judge and not one that is liable to go into policymaking.”

The committee’s questioning, which begins today, will last for at least two days. President George W. Bush ’68 nominated Alito on Oct. 31 to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced last summer her plans to retire.

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