For Democrats, A Most Tender Roast of Alito

Sen. Joseph Biden pushed Alito on issues of discrimination but spent the first few questions trying to put the Supreme Court nominee at ease.
Sen. Joseph Biden pushed Alito on issues of discrimination but spent the first few questions trying to put the Supreme Court nominee at ease. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Marcia Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It was beginning to look as if the Democrats had shown up to a knife fight without a knife yesterday.

It was beginning to look as if they'd just been woofing when it came to the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. That they'd written a check full of bluster that a lackluster series of questions couldn't cash.

There were some deft jabs, for sure, and Democrats did visit the territories they had promised -- from abortion rights to executive power to issues of discrimination and the appellate judge's ethics. But the Dems didn't rampage, didn't storm the barricades as all their tough talk had promised.

In fact, most of the day was so quiet that by mid-afternoon you had Republicans such as Texas's John Cornyn going before reporters and essentially declaring victory.

That's hard to take when Americans have been promised a smackdown. This is a reality TV nation, a WWF kinda country, where we like to see a fight even when we know it isn't real, even when we know the stakes might just be a bag of Cheetos.

So when it's the Supreme Court, well, that's when the sparks are supposed to fly. That's what Democrats had promised in the Alito hearings. The New Jersey judge with humble roots would replace the all-important swing seat of Sandra Day O'Connor, they said. Abortion rights are at stake. The issue of executive power is on the table like never before in light of the president's recent wiretapping episodes. Alito is a guy who may be an extremist posing as a moderate.

They certainly talked a good game. After all, wasn't it last week that New York's Charles E. Schumer said Alito should not try to pull the same duck-and-dodge as John Roberts? Schumer even spoke of the possibility of a filibuster. And wasn't it Massachusetts's legendary lion Ted Kennedy who said Alito worried him because he seemed incapable of ruling against the government or big corporations in favor of the little guy? This is the seat that will push the court to the right, the argument went, the seat that matters more than replacing Chief Justice William Rehnquist with Roberts.

Unless you were paying really close attention early yesterday, it would have been hard to figure out whether what you were looking at was more than a garden-variety spat.

Yes, Patrick Leahy tried to press Alito on executive power.

Yes, Kennedy tried to grill Alito on his Vanguard mutual fund and said again that the judge was just too deferential to the president.

And Democratic senators pressed the judge on his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, or CAP, which challenged the admission of women and minorities.

"They were hostile to what they felt were people that did not fit Princeton's traditional mold: women and minorities," Leahy said, noting that Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee and former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley had criticized the organization and dropped their membership but that Alito had touted it in a job application in 1985.

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