As a young lawyer in the Reagan administration, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion," declared his firm opposition to certain affirmative action programs, and strongly endorsed a government role in "protecting traditional values."
The comments came in a job application to then-Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III in 1985, when Alito was seeking to bolster his conservative credentials and move up at the Justice Department. Alito was subsequently promoted to deputy assistant attorney general.
Alito, an assistant in the Office of the Solicitor General at the time, said he was "particularly proud" of his contributions to cases in which the Reagan administration had argued before the Supreme Court that "racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." He said it had been a "source of great personal satisfaction" to help advance such legal causes -- positions that he said "I personally believe very strongly."
The letter was included in 168 pages of documents released yesterday by the National Archives. The documents portray an ideologically committed conservative and offer the first public articulation of Alito's personal political philosophy as he portrayed it five years before his appointment as a federal appeals court judge.
With Alito's confirmation hearings scheduled to begin Jan. 9, the papers provoked swift reaction on Capitol Hill and among both liberal and conservative interest groups.
Opponents charged that the documents offer further evidence that Alito would vote to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision recognizing a constitutional right to abortion and would roll back civil rights and protections of religious freedom. Defenders said that Alito would put aside personal views and base his rulings on the law and a respect for Supreme Court precedent.
In his application to Meese, first reported yesterday in the Washington Times, Alito wrote that "I am and always have been a conservative" and described "the greatest influences on my views" as the writings of William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the conservative National Review, and Republican Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. Alito said he was "a life-long registered Republican" who had made political contributions to a number of GOP campaigns in his home state of New Jersey as well as conservative national political action committees.
"I believe very strongly in limited government, federalism, free enterprise, the supremacy of the elected branches of government, the need for a strong defense and effective law enforcement, and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values," he wrote. "In the field of law, I disagree strenuously with the usurpation by the judiciary of decision-making authority that should be exercised by the branches of government responsible to the electorate."
His interest in constitutional law, Alito said, was "motivated in large part" by disagreement with Supreme Court decisions in the 1950s and 1960s, when the high court was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Alito said he was particularly disturbed by its rulings "in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause and reapportionment."
The Warren Court ruled that police had to inform criminal suspects of their rights before questioning them, that indigent defendants had a right to counsel and that improperly seized evidence could not be used at trial. It found that the establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibited public schools from holding organized Bible reading or prayer. And it established a one-man, one-vote principle by mandating that political districts be drawn in such a way as to be roughly equal in population.
Alito said his intellectual development was further shaped by the writings of the late Alexander M. Bickel, a Yale Law School professor and a leading constitutional conservative. Bickel was a mentor to and close friend of Robert H. Bork, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan but did not win confirmation amid a storm of controversy.
Bickel denounced the "results-orientation" of the Warren court and, like many other conservatives, agreed with then-Justice Byron R. White, who in his dissent described the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision as an "extravagant exercise of judicial power." The Roe decision concluded that a right to privacy includes the right to abortion.