By Dana Milbank
Friday, January 6, 2006
Do not be surprised if, at some point during next week's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, a trumpet blast is sounded in the hearing room, winged angels descend, and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee turn into pillars of salt.
This undoubtedly would be the wish of the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council. He held a news conference outside the Hart Office Building yesterday to announce that he would "consecrate Room 216 Hart" -- the hearing room -- in hopes of having, in the sacred words of Fox News, "a fair and balanced hearing."
"By dedicating it to God, we look to God to orchestrate and direct the activities that take place at that location," Schenck, who provided similar blessings for John G. Roberts's confirmation, explained to the television cameras. It's unclear if this would violate Senate rules, which give Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) sole authority to direct activities in the hearing room.
With four days to go until Alito's confirmation hearings, the rush to judgment was in the home stretch yesterday. Senators and interest groups of all stripes were competing madly to prejudge the judge.
The day began at 9 a.m. with a gathering of groups, including Law Students Against Alito. An hour later at the National Press Club, a group of Women Against Alito crashed a meeting of Women for Alito and heckled the participants with chants of "Women will die!" While that fracas ensued, a group of Law Professors Against Alito was meeting down the hall. At noon at the press club, political consultants behind the Swift Boat campaign against John F. Kerry wheeled out the African Americans for Alito.
Pat Robertson set the tone for the week when he said on Tuesday God had told him that Alito would be confirmed and another justice -- a liberal! -- will retire this year. "The president is going to strengthen, and Alito is going to get confirmed," Robertson prophesied, provoking the liberal Americans United group to wonder if Robertson "is confusing his wish-list for God's will."
The left, meanwhile, has been burying Alito with paper. On Wednesday, People for the American Way issued a 155-page report denouncing everything about the nominee. Ninety minutes later, another liberal group, Alliance for Justice, came out with its anti-Alito report -- 168 pages, besting its rival by 13.
The senators who will decide Alito's fate have been only marginally more restrained. Virtually all of the majority Republicans will vote for him and most of the minority Democrats will oppose him. But each side claims to be open-minded while accusing the other of prejudging.
Last month, the office of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), put this phenomenon to verse.
'Twas one month before the hearings, and all through the city
Not many Democrats were waiting, not even some on the committee
The office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) retaliated:
On Alito, they say, he deserves confirmation,
But don't wait for hearings, just accept coronation.
The committee members were busily promoting an appearance of open-mindedness yesterday.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), hosting a morning roundtable with reporters, had nothing nice to say about Alito. "We here in the United States are not going to stand for monarchial tyranny," he said, protesting Alito's support for "unfettered, unlimited power of the executive." He faulted Alito for belonging to a group that was "anti-black and also anti-women." Kennedy wondered if "the average person is going to be able to get a fair shake" under Alito.
Briefly, Kennedy rewrote the outcome of the 1964 election. "This nominee was influenced by the Goldwater presidency," he said. "The Goldwater battles of those times were the battles against the civil rights laws." Only then did Kennedy acknowledge that "Judge Alito at that time was 14 years old."
A questioner pointed out that Kennedy sounded like a sure bet against Alito. "I haven't reached a final conclusion," the senator demurred.
Next up: Schumer, who gave an afternoon speech to the liberal Center for American Progress. Schumer argued that Alito articulated "a radical theory of executive power" under which "we couldn't have a 9/11 commission." He further mentioned the judge's "extreme views" and said one of his arguments "can't be taken seriously by any serious person." The senator judged that Alito "is in worse shape today than the day he was nominated."
So is that a "no" vote? "No," Schumer said. "We want to hear his views."
Cornyn hosted a conference call to counter the Democrats' unofficial opposition to Alito with his unofficial support. Cornyn said that Alito is "solidly within the judicial mainstream" and that attacks on him are "specious and far-fetched." This followed Cornyn's earlier descriptions of Alito as "highly qualified, extremely fair, and a man of unquestioned integrity."
Then we'll take that as a "yes" vote? Not necessarily. "Based on what I know now, I support the nomination," Cornyn said, but "there is certainly a possibility I would change my mind."