By Dale Russakoff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006
As a Princeton alumnus and professional basketball player, Bill Bradley in 1973 renounced his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, calling it a "right wing" organization that opposed the admission of women and minorities to the school.
Two years later, another distinguished alumnus and future U.S. senator, Bill Frist, co-wrote a report denouncing the group for "grossly inaccurate" attacks on the school's policies and a "narrow ideological perspective" that had done "a disservice to the university."
Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s membership in this group, which he touted among his conservative credentials in a 1985 application for a political appointment in the Reagan Justice Department, touched off a bruising political battle yesterday during the third day of confirmation hearings.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and other Democrats demanded to know why the son of an Italian immigrant would take credit for membership in a "radical" group that opposed increased enrollment of women and minorities, while Republicans and a White House spokesman branded that line of questioning as "pathetic," "scurrilous" and an effort to assign "guilt by association."
The group was founded in 1972 by Princeton alumni who were troubled that the university had recently begun admitting women and who said Princeton had lowered its standards to admit more minorities.
Alito, a 1972 Princeton graduate, testified yesterday that he has no recollection of joining the group, and that he would not have done so if he had known of its writings about women and minorities. "I deplore those statements," he said. "I would never be a member of an organization that took those positions."
He said he assumes he joined only because he supported the return of ROTC to the Princeton campus. As an undergraduate, Alito was a member of Princeton's Army ROTC unit when it was expelled from the campus -- a move that he said "rankled" him because "the attitude seemed to be that the military was a bad institution and that Princeton was too good for the military."
The Army ROTC unit was back on campus by the time Alito wrote his 1985 job application, but he said the Navy and Air Force units were not.
Throughout its existence, the now-defunct group was widely reported in major newspapers and magazines to be against increased admission of minorities and women -- positions advanced in its magazine, fliers and letters to alumni. Republicans released a 1985 newspaper article that said the group also was defending the Army ROTC unit then.
Democrats declared themselves "incredulous" that Alito was unaware of the group's attitudes toward women and minority students, and that his explanations for why he joined the group and mentioned it on an application did not add up. Kennedy read aloud a number of passages from the group's magazine, Prospect, that attacked women, minorities and gays.
One 1983 article, titled "In Defense of Elitism," began: "People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic. The physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports. And homosexuals are demanding the government vouchsafe them the right to bear children."
Alito said he had never seen the article and called the views in it "antithetical" to his beliefs. Republicans released disclaimers from Prospect saying that all articles reflected the opinions of the authors and were not official positions of Concerned Alumni of Princeton.
White House spokesman Steve Schmitt said Kennedy was "attributing to the judge words he never said or wrote and explicitly repudiates" because the Democrats were "unable to challenge Judge Alito's mastery of the law and his stellar 15-year record on the appellate court."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) read aloud the comments of 1975 Princeton graduate Diane Weeks, who had worked for Alito when he was U.S. attorney in New Jersey.
"When I saw Concerned Alumni of Princeton on that 1985 job application, I was flabbergasted," Durbin quoted Weeks as saying in the Nation magazine. "I was totally stunned. I couldn't believe it. CAP made it clear to women like me we were not wanted on campus. And he is touting his membership in this group in 1985, 13 years after he graduated? He's not a young man at this point. . . . I'm very troubled by this and if I were in the Senate, I would want some answers."
Alito responded that Weeks was "one of many women whom I hired when I was U.S. attorney. And I think that illustrates my attitude toward equality for women."
In an interview yesterday, Weeks said: "The reason I'm flabbergasted is that from my personal experience with Sam, he does not discriminate against women, minorities or anyone else. He is a merit-based thinker. That's who he is. I cannot understand for the life of me why he would have even associated himself with Concerned Alumni of Princeton."
At Kennedy's request, and with Alito's blessing, Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the panel will examine the group's records to get "all the facts." The records are in the Library of Congress in the private papers of William Rusher, a former publisher of National Review magazine. Rusher allowed the New York Times to review the records last year, and the newspaper found no evidence that Alito was active in the organization or was a major donor to it.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) called the attacks on Alito "guilt by association," adding, "I am sorry that your family has had to sit here and listen to this." Alito's wife, Martha-Ann, left the room in tears, returning after a break.
Staff writer Jo Becker contributed to this report.