Alito Nomination Sets Stage for Ideological Battle
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
President Bush nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court yesterday, rallying his estranged Republican base back to his side and triggering a torrent of liberal attacks that could foreshadow a bruising ideological showdown over the future of the judiciary.
In effect relaunching the nomination four days after Harriet Miers withdrew under fire, Bush selected a long-standing New Jersey judge with an extensive record of conservative rulings on abortion, federalism, discrimination and religion in public spaces. If confirmed to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing vote in recent years, Alito seems likely to shift the court to the right.
Conservative leaders who helped force Miers to pull out Thursday rejoiced at the selection, seeing in Alito the philosophical equivalent of Justice Antonin Scalia. Liberal groups moved instantly onto a war footing and accused Bush of bowing to the most extreme elements of his party. The intensity of the response instantly put Alito at the center of what seems to be the political confirmation battle that both sides have been gearing up to fight for more than a decade.
"Judge Alito has gained the respect of his colleagues and attorneys for his brilliance and decency," Bush said in introducing his latest choice. "He's won admirers across the political spectrum. I'm confident that the United States Senate will be impressed by Judge Alito's distinguished record, his measured judicial temperament and his tremendous personal integrity."
Critics wasted no time disputing that. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the liberal group People for the American Way rushed out statements blasting the nomination even before Bush announced it at 8 a.m. By the day's end, much of the organized left had joined the chorus, including the AFL-CIO, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Alliance for Justice, MoveOn.org and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
"After insisting that Harriet Miers shouldn't even get a hearing because she couldn't prove she was extreme enough, the far right has now forced the president to choose a nominee that they think has views as extreme as their own," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Reid, who had encouraged Bush to pick Miers, said the Senate would have to investigate whether Alito "is too radical for the American people" and complained of another white male nominee. "President Bush would leave the Supreme Court looking less like America and more like an old boys club," Reid said.
If confirmed as the nation's 110th justice, Alito would join a nine-member court that has one woman and one black justice. Alito would be the second Italian American, after Scalia, and its fifth Catholic, joining two Jews, a Protestant and an Episcopalian. Bush had considered appointing the first Hispanic justice but opted against the known candidates. And despite pleas from O'Connor and Laura Bush, he decided against putting forth a second woman after Miers failed.
In some ways, Alito, 55, appears to be everything Miers was not. She was a corporate lawyer who studied at Southern Methodist University and broke gender barriers in Texas; Alito earned degrees from Princeton and Yale universities and served in President Ronald Reagan's Justice Department and as U.S. attorney in New Jersey.
Miers was never a judge and generated a limited paper trail with ambiguous political moorings. Alito has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit with chambers in Newark since being nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and has addressed a range of society's most volatile subjects.
The same president who touted Miers a month ago as a nominee with real-world experience far removed from "the judicial monastery" yesterday emphasized Alito's lengthy history on the bench, noting that he "has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years." Bush even chose to introduce Alito in the main hall of the White House, rather than in the Oval Office, where he announced Miers's nomination.
Presidential aides acknowledged the course change. "We tend to learn our lessons," said one senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could be more candid. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that "the culture of today's confirmation process makes it very difficult for someone who comes from outside the court" to be appointed.