Just four days after the withdrawal of Harriet Miers, President Bush immediately re-energized his conservative base and touched off fierce Democratic opposition with his nomination today of appeals Judge Samuel Alito Jr. to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court.
While Republican leaders rallied behind the choice, Senate Democrats accused Bush of dividing the nation by giving in to extremists.
“The Senate needs to find out if the man replacing Miers is too radical for the American people,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Rather than selecting a nominee for the good of the nation and the court, President Bush has picked a nominee whom he hopes will stop the massive hemorrhaging of support on his right wing. This is a nomination based on weakness, not strength.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (Washington Post)
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. , another member of the panel that will vote on Alito’s nomination, said, “It is 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. This controversial nominee, who would make the court less diverse and far more conservative, will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and from the American people.”
Bush, who announced Miers’ withdrawal Thursday, hailed Alito, 55, as “one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America.”
“He’s got a mastery of the law and a deep commitment to justice,” Bush said in announcing his pick.
The president urged the Senate to confirm Alito, a member of the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, by the end of the year.
Alito, standing with the president this morning, said the Supreme Court “is an institution that I have long held in reverence.”
“During my 29 years as a public servant, I’ve had the opportunity to view the Supreme Court from a variety of perspectives – as an attorney in the Solicitor General’s Office, arguing and briefing cases before the Supreme Court, as a federal prosecutor, and most recently for the last 15 years as a judge of the Court of Appeals,” he said.
Miers withdrew after conservatives mobilized opposition over her qualifications and evidence she lacked a strong judicial philosophy. On Capitol Hill, senators from both parties expressed doubts about her suitability for the high court after she made the rounds to 28 Senate offices. Bush, who said he reluctantly accepted her decision, insisted he could not give in to demands from the Senate to release White House documents protected by executive privilege.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn, said Alito is “unquestionably qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court. And on the bench, he has displayed a judicial philosophy marked by judicial restraint and respect for the limited role of the judiciary to interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.”
Alito appears to have the proven conservative track record Miers lacked – so much so that some court observers call him “Scalito,” a reference to one of the high court’s most prominent conservatives, Justice Antonin Scalia.
The nomination drew immediate praise from conservative activist groups, including Concerned Women for America, which officially declared its opposition to Mier just before her withdrawal.
“Judge Alito has always been one of our top choices for the Supreme Court,” said Jan LaRue, CWA’s chief counsel. “He has all of the qualifications needed: intellect, knowledge and experience in constitutional law, integrity, competence, humility and judicial temperament.”
LaRue said that since about half of the current members of the Democratic caucus confirmed Alito when President George H. W. Bush nominated him to the 3rd Court of Appeals in 1990, she expected him to “sail through to confirmation by an overwhelming majority.”
“Judge Alito will help swing the court back to the Constitution and restore the only balance that matters,” LaRue said.
The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue says it will support Alito.
“We believe that this nomination may fulfill Bush’s promise to appoint justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman. “Alito’s judicial philosophy reflects the views of the majority of Americans who are increasingly outraged by the current liberal activist court.”
Newman added, “We are trusting that we are now on the fast-track to derailing Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.”
Alito’s differences on abortion with O’Connor were illustrated in 1991 when he voted to uphold a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.
The case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, went to the U.S. Supreme Court where O’Connor was the architect of the decision to reaffirm Roe v. Wade and strike down the state’s spousal notification requirement.
Alito, the sole dissenter on the 3rd Circuit, argued that many of the potential reasons for an abortion, such as “economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands’ previously expressed opposition . . . may be obviated by discussion prior to abortion.”
Alito’s selection today was immediately opposed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“His confirmation would radically transform the Supreme Court and create a direct threat to the health and safety of American women,” said the group’s interim president, Karen Pearl.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice, said that instead of unifying the country, President Bush “has chosen the path of confrontation.”
“Sandra Day O’Connor has been the court’s swing Justice, casting the deciding votes over the years to protect women’s reproductive freedom,” she said. “Alito’s confirmation could shift the court in a direction that threatens to eviscerate the core protections for women’s freedom guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, or overturn the landmark decision altogether.”
Ralph Neas (pbs.org)
Ralph Neas, president of People For the American Way, said, “President Bush put the demands of his far-right political base above Americans’ constitutional rights and legal protections by nominating” Alito.
Liberals also have voiced concerns about Alito’s track record on civil rights. He has been a frequent dissenter on the 3rd circuit court, one of the nation’s most liberal federal districts.
A Trenton, N.J., native of Italian heritage, Alito attended Princeton University and earned a law degree from Yale University, President Bush’s alma mater.
He was U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, 1987-1990; deputy assistant to the U.S. attorney general, 1985-1987; and assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, 1981-1985.
Alito, who has argued 12 Supreme Court cases, also clerked for Judge Leonard Garth of the 3rd Circuit, now his colleague on that court.
Among his associations are the Federalist Society, New Jersey Federal Bar Association, New Jersey State Bar Association and the American Bar Association.
Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, live in West Caldwell, N.J. They have two children, a college-age son, Philip, and a younger daughter, Laura.
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