Transcript: Sen. Schumer's Remarks on Alito Nomination
Monday, October 31, 2005; 12:20 PM
SENATOR SCHUMER HOLDS A NEWS CONFERENCE ON THE NOMINATION OF JUDGE ALITO TO THE SUPREME COURT
SPEAKER: U.S. SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY)
SCHUMER: Good morning, everybody.
This morning I went and visited Rosa Parks in the Capitol Rotunda to pay my respects.
Being in the presence of Ms. Parks was awe-inspiring. This was a woman who changed history with one thin dime. She paid her fare and took her rightful seat on the bus and America was never the same again.
Like Rosa Parks, Judge Alito will be able to change history by virtue of where he sits. The real question today is whether Judge Alito would use his seat on the bench, just as Rosa Parks used her seat on the bus, to change history for the better or whether he would use that seat to reverse much of what Rosa Parks and so many others fought so hard and for so long to put in place.
Judge Alito's visit to Rosa Parks this morning was appropriate. His record, as I'm sure Rosa Parks would agree, is much more important.
A preliminary review of his record raises real questions about Judge Alito's judicial philosophy and his commitment to civil rights, workers' rights, women's rights, the rights of average Americans which the courts have always looked out for.
Now, it's sad that the president felt he had to pick a nominee likely to divide America instead of choosing a nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor who would unify us.
America needs unity now. America needs reaching out to one another more than ever. But the president seems to want to hunker down in his bunker and is more concerned about smoothing the ruffled feathers of the extreme wing of his party than about governing all of America and changing history for the better.
SCHUMER: This controversial nominee, who would make the court less diverse and far more conservative, will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and the American people.
The president had an opportunity to nominate someone in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor, a mainstream, albeit conservative, who would unite the country, not further decide us. At first blush, Judge Alito does not appear to be a Sandra Day O'Connor.
It is an immutable law of history that when a president tries to govern from the extreme, his presidency and the country end up losing. Democrats learned this when we governed from the far left. President Bush will learn this as well.
As for Judge Alito, there is still a lot to be learned about him. Many of the opinions that he has written over the last 15 years cast real doubt on whether he can be a fair, mainstream, albeit conservative, judge who strives to protect the rights of all Americans, instead of a judge who will use his power to restrict those rights and legislate from the bench.
Now a word about timing. I know that the president and his supporters have suggested we need to rush a hearing and a vote by the end of this year. When there is a controversial nominee for a pivotal swing vote on the high court, the procedure should not be short- circuited, short-changed or rushed.
We need to be careful here.
SCHUMER: This is a nominee who could shift the balance of the court, and thus the laws of the nation, for decades to come.
As I said, there is much to be learned. We need to review his 15 years of judicial opinions. There will be thousands of documents from his time in the Reagan administration, just like there were with John Roberts. And like with Judge Roberts, it will take time to assemble those documents from the Reagan Library and review them.
We will need to review these documents and perhaps take testimony regarding his time as a prosecutor and as a Reagan Justice Department official.
The documents will require particularly close scrutiny given that Judge Alito has been nominated for such a crucial swing vote on the court.
We will also need to meet Judge Alito personally and we'll need thorough, fair, full hearings.
So there's a lot to fit in between now and Christmas, particularly when there is so much else to do on behalf of the American people before this session of Congress is complete.
No one should seek to delay this process for the sake of delay. But even more importantly, no one should seek to rush these hearings through simply to make a point, distract from other issues of the day or avoid a thorough review of this nominee.
Ready for your questions.
QUESTION: Why do you think the president nominated Judge Alito?
SCHUMER: Well, as I said, I think that the president received so much criticism from the extreme wing of his party that he felt, in his position right now, that he couldn't afford to alienate them further. And they demanded fidelity to their viewpoint.
That's what it appears but we'll have to give a thorough review of Judge Alito.
QUESTION: Senator, is ideology a fair consideration in your judgment of this individual? How does it inform the possibility of the nuclear option being triggered?
SCHUMER: Well, first, for three years I've been arguing that judicial philosophy and ideology make a real difference. In the nomination of Harriet Miers, many of my colleagues in the Senate of a far different philosophy than me agreed. So I think that issue was pretty much settled.
And knowing his judicial philosophy, knowing his ideology are going to be extremely important particularly in light of the fact that this is a swing vote.
QUESTION: Senator, can you confirm the (OFF-MIKE)
SCHUMER: Well, that's much to early to tell. As I said, I do not want to see the process short-circuited or rushed.
SCHUMER: Sandra Day O'Connor has said she will serve until the position is filled. Judge Alito is 55. He'll be on the court likely for many decades. And to rush this hearing would be a very big mistake and I think would show the American people that there's not an interest in seeing all the facts come out.
SCHUMER: Well, you know, I always like to wait to review the nominee's record, meet with the nominee and then have hearings. I have not taken a position on the two Supreme Court nominees until after the hearings. I didn't get a chance to on Harriet Miers.
But the initial review of Judge Alito's record shows that there's a real chance that he will, like Justice Scalia, choose to make law rather than interpret law and move the court in a direction quite different than it has gone.
And so there are a lot of questions about Judge Alito that require a full hearing.
QUESTION: Senator, what specifically did you see in the preliminary review...
SCHUMER: Well, as I said, it's civil rights, it's workers' rights, it's women's rights, it's the power of the executive, it's issue after issue after issue. There's not just one isolated strain.
I would say this: There are certain cases that go in the other direction too.
SCHUMER: It's not a record that is just 100 percent one way, but it certainly raises a large number of questions.
I'm not going to get into the specific cases right.
QUESTION: Senator, why are you confident you're going to get any records from the Reagan years, since he was in the Solicitor General's Office for four years and the White House refused to turn over documents from Roberts on that, and he was in the OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel, which is de facto like the Solicitor General's Office?
SCHUMER: Well, I think that, given that it was a long time ago, and particularly the OLC records, he didn't have the position that John Roberts had in the Solicitor General's Office, which they claimed was a policy-making position.
I think it would be a real reversal if they were to say that we couldn't get any of the records from Judge Alito's days in the administration, a reversal from what they did with Judge Roberts and with others.
QUESTION: Senator, you're critical of this nomination because you say he is not like Sandra Day O'Connor and he would move the court to the right.
What's your general rule here: that president's should maintain the existing...
SCHUMER: My rule is a very simple one.
QUESTION: And how does that fit with what President Clinton did?
SCHUMER: OK. My rule is this. I understand that the president isn't going to nominate someone who would agree with me on every issue. I voted for close to 200 judges that that president has nominated who don't.
My criteria is the same as it's always been: A judge should interpret the law, not make it. There are judges at the extremes, because they are so passionate in what they believe, who seek to actually make law from the bench.
The irony is, the conservative movement on the judiciary, which arose in reaction to judges on the left making law -- and they did -- is now doing the same thing, just from the right.
SCHUMER: They can call it what you will, but that's exactly what's happening.
QUESTION: What's more a realistic timeline, given your concerns about December? You think January, February?
SCHUMER: Well, you know, certainly don't delay for delay's sake but don't rush it either. We need to get the documents, especially from early on. We need to study his record. We need to meet with him.
If the schedule is such that we're getting out of here in Thanksgiving, I don't think coming back for a day and voting on him in January makes too much sense.
I'd say this is a more serious decision than the vote on Judge Roberts, because Sandra Day O'Connor is such a swing vote. And there should not be a procedural rush here.
QUESTION: He's been compared to Antonin Scalia. Does that bother you?
SCHUMER: Well, what would bother me is somebody who would want to make law. And that is a standard that I think most Americans don't want.
I've always said that a good Supreme Court would have one Scalia and one Brennan but not five of either. The question is, is the president attempting to get five Scalias on the court.
QUESTION: So are you saying, Senator, that he is an activist judge?
SCHUMER: Well, I am saying that I find portions of his significant portions of his record very troubling in terms of him turning the clock back and wanting to make law not interpret. But I'm withholding judgment till I meet him, till I see the -- withholding final judgment, and giving some preliminary impressions as I've done on others.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) is there anything that you know now that (OFF-MIKE)
SCHUMER: It's too early to tell.
SCHUMER: Nothing is on the table and nothing is off the table. Let's learn more about Judge Alito.
The one thing we do know is that the president was at a decisive point. He could have chosen a unifying nominee or he could have chosen somebody who would please the very extreme groups who didn't like Harriet Miers. And he chose the second course.
I don't think that's good for America. And, frankly, I don't think that's good for the president, whatever the outcome of the vote here.
QUESTION: Senator, can you compare the political climate if there were to be a filibuster, nuclear option, today versus June or July? Is the president's weakened state perhaps with some of the issues in the news these days something that gives you more hope if there were a filibuster (inaudible) nuclear option?
SCHUMER: Well, you know, again, I'm not going to get into speculating on into the future.
I think that the initial reaction of myself and most Democrats is the president missed a real opportunity here to unify the country. And the one thing we insist on is that we really get to know who Judge Alito is, that this not be rushed. And then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
As I said, nothing is on the table, nothing is off the table.
QUESTION: Senator, have you talked to any of our Democratic colleagues who signed on to the compromise that staved off the nuclear option last time and got...
SCHUMER: Well, I've talked to them a lot of times. Not this morning but, again, I think that was a very good thing because it staved off the nuclear option but it probably has 14 interpretations. And we'll have to see how each person decides to interpret it.
Thank you. Last question.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you're kind of bracing and getting ready for the nuclear option, sir?
SCHUMER: No. I mean, I've been talking about judicial philosophy, judicial ideology for three years. I've said it's important for every judge, Democrat, Republican and on into the future.
You know, maybe we'll come to a day when neither the left or right will seek to use the judiciary to make law.
SCHUMER: We're not there now and that's why ideology is important. And the president himself has said ideology is part of his test. And so I think it's only fair for it to be for everybody else too.
SCHUMER: It was much too early to tell. Obviously, there were troubles but -- I just remind you -- not a single Democrat said they were voting against her, not a single Democrat called for her withdrawal.
When Harriet Miers stepped down, it was because the hard right did not want her. And the president should not be governing simply by listening to a small group of people at one extreme.