When Judge Samuel Alito LAW ’75 finished his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, the Supreme Court nominee’s responses during the first week of his confirmation hearings had left legal experts and members of the Yale Law School community divided on his suitability for the bench.
Since the hearings began on Monday, senators on the committee have questioned Alito on topics ranging from executive authority and abortion rights to the judge’s involvement in the group Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which opposed the admission of women and minorities to Princeton University, his undergraduate alma mater.
Yale Law School professor Owen Fiss, who participated in the Alito Project — a Law School initiative that compiled and analyzed the judge’s written opinions — the hearings were fair and presented Alito with a broad range of questions. But Alito’s responses to questions by the senators made clear certain inconsistencies on the nominee’s part, Fiss said.
“I think the truth about him did come out,” Fiss said. “I think his answers showed him shifting ground. I happen to think that Alito should not be confirmed, based on a review of his opinions.”
But Gerald Walpin LAW ’55, a member of the steering committee for Yale Law Students and Alumni for Alito, said the nominee’s record as a judge on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals speaks to his adherence to the facts when deciding cases.
“I think that his many years on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals after his application to the Department of Justice are more probative of the fact that he has an open mind and he feels that it is his responsibility as a judge to put aside personal views and determine the issues on the basis of the law and the facts,” Walpin said.
Still, Justin Florence LAW ’06, a member of Law Students Against Alito, said he does not think the candidate’s responses at the hearings fulfilled their purpose, because they failed to provide insight into decisions he might make if granted the power to re-evaluate the nation’s most fundamental of documents.
“My overwhelming reaction to the hearings is that he didn’t give us any hints in how he interprets the Constitution,” Florence said. “I think his failure to honestly and openly talk about his own views prevented the Senate and the American people from having the opportunity to give their consent to the kind of change that will happen.”
Files from the Princeton group were reviewed at the request of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, who said he was concerned about Alito’s involvement in CAP.
“We still do not have a clear answer to why Judge Alito joined this reprehensible group in the first place,” Kennedy said, according to a Congressional Quarterly transcript. “We still do not know why he believed that membership in the group would enhance his job application in the Reagan Justice Department. We still don’t know why he chose this organization among so many other organizations that he likely belonged to, but somehow can’t remember why.”
But Republican Sen. Arlen Specter said in the transcript that no decisive link between Alito and the group could be determined.
“The files contain dozens of articles, including investigative exposes written at the height of the organization’s prominence, but Samuel Alito’s name is nowhere to be found in any of them,” Specter said.
Such inquiries into a candidate’s background are not unusual, as Supreme Court hearings often explore issues not related to the merits of a judge’s opinion or background, said Mark Moller, a Supreme Court expert at the Cato Institute.
The committee may vote on Alito’s confirmation next week with a vote by the full Senate the following week. Law School professors Anthony Kronman and Ronald Sullivan will deliver testimony before the committee today.