President George W. Bush ’68 nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito LAW ’75 to the nation’s highest court Monday, replacing former nominee Harriet Miers with a candidate that some politicians are calling more experienced and conservative.
Republicans have begun to rally behind Alito, but some liberal groups and lawmakers have branded him as a right-wing choice intended to appease Bush’s electoral base. The announcement came four days after Miers withdrew her nomination in the face of criticism from conservatives.
In a press conference yesterday, Alito pledged to fulfill the solemn responsibilities of serving on the Supreme Court without overstepping his bounds.
“Federal judges have the duty to interpret the Constitution and the laws faithfully … always keeping in mind the limited role that the courts play in our constitutional system,” Alito said.
Several Yale Law School professors and experts said they did not dispute Alito’s academic credentials, though they had mixed views of his ideology.
“Sam is highly intelligent, very capable, a true lawyer’s lawyer,” said Dan Rabinowitz LAW ’75, Alito’s former classmate and colleague. “He is a person who is able to listen with respect to arguments on all sides of a legal issue, and I think his basic temperament is a scholarly one,” Rabinowitz said.
Bush said Alito’s intelligence and integrity would make him a valuable addition to the court.
“Judge Alito showed great promise from the beginning in studies at Princeton and Yale Law School,” Bush said in a press conference Monday. “He’s scholarly, fair-minded and principled, and these qualities will serve our nation well on the highest court of the land.”
But some liberal politicians and law school professors have called Alito an ideologue — he has been nicknamed “Scalito” for his ideological similarity to conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — and have not ruled out a filibuster.
Yale Law School professor and former dean Harry Wellington said he fears Alito’s extreme conservatism.
“I think if his nomination is confirmed, he will be very much in the Scalia model, and from my perspective that’s not good,” Wellington said.
Wellington said he thinks Alito’s review of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which he ordered women considering abortions to inform their husbands of their decisions, revealed a lack of respect for women’s rights. Evidence in the case showed that the majority of women undergoing abortions do inform their spouses, and those who do not usually refrain because they fear abuse, Wellington said.
“He rejected statistical evidence in that the case that was mentioned, he did this on his own gut reaction, now the Supreme Court pressed him down on this,” Wellington said. “I think that’s a very unfortunate thing for us to have a justice on the Supreme Court who is really profoundly insensitive on women’s rights.”
But Law School professor Kate Stith, a constitutional law expert, said liberals should not overreact to Alito’s ideology, citing the “hysterical” reaction of some political bloggers.
“It’s not surprising that [Bush is] going to appoint a person whose judicial philosophy is consistent with the general Republican view of judges,” Stith said. “It would have been within his power to appoint a right wing ideologue who does not believe in the law [and] is not highly respected and distinguished. I am very pleased that that’s not what we have.”
In any case, the liberal outcry may do little to hamper Alito’s confirmation even if Democrats choose to fight it, said Todd Gaziano, the director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
“There are many democrats who for partisan reasons may try to draw it out,” Gaziano said, “but at the end of the day they can’t actually stop the process.”
Much of the criticism leveled at Miers’ ill-fated nomination was rooted in her lack of experience; a former Texas attorney and current White House Counsel, Miers has never served on the bench. Conservatives had also accused Miers of holding liberal positions on social issues such as abortion.
Stuart Taylor, a Supreme Court expert at the Brookings Institution, said he thinks Alito is a more qualified candidate than Miers but lacks some of her outsider perspective.
“The ideal nominee would be a woman with some kind of diverse background who otherwise resembled Alito,” Taylor said. “[But] I’d much rather have a first rate nominee like Alito than a second-rate nominee like Miers.”
Law professor Anthony Kronman LAW ’75, who knew Judge Alito when they were classmates at Yale, said Alito stood out as a student for his legal skill rather than his political leanings.
“He impressed me as being more interested in the technical, intellectual challenges of the law and its legal reasoning than its political uses or ramifications,” Kronman said.
In Monday’s press conference, Bush urged the Senate to hold an up or down vote on Alito’s nomination before the end of the year, though several Senate aides told the Associated Press he may not receive a full Senate vote until several weeks into 2006.