17 February 2006

Alito Confirmed... But at What Price?

(Originally posted February 3, 2006 - recovered February 17, 2006)

Finally, on the last Tuesday in January, after an exceptionally long confirmation process, Samuel Alito was confirmed as the 110th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The vote in the Senate followed pretty much the same pattern as the one in the Judiciary Committee, that is to say, almost perfectly along partisan lines.

This, I believe, is the true story. Not the so-called scandals the Democrats wouldn’t tire of dragging up out of the distant past of the candidate. That is not to say that Samuel Alito is perfect in every respect. I am sure that some of the ‘scandals’ in the man’s past turn out to have more than a grain of truth in them. Let’s face it: he probably made mistakes. But that should not stand in the way of concluding that now Justice Alito was eminently qualified for the Supreme Court. It is not as if you have to be perfect to make it to that court or that Supreme Court justices never make a mistake. After all, five justices made a most lamentable mistake when they ruled to enshrine Roe v. Wade in American law.

So, let’s make a clean breast of it: Samuel Alito has, like any other human being, some stupid mistakes in his past. His involvement in the racist Conservative Alumni of Princeton is reprehensible, as is the fact that in 1985 he chose to list this as an accomplishment on a job application. But the assertion that these incidents are indicative of a pattern of bad or even bigoted judgments is a bold-faced lie. They are individual exceptions on an otherwise exemplary record.

Thus, the real story is the irrational resistance put up by all but three Democrats. For what reasons did they oppose this nomination? Do we really believe those bogus statements about his judicial record showing a bias in favor of big corporations and the federal government and against the little guy and the oppressed minorities? I certainly do not. On the hot-button issue of abortion, Alito sided with the pro-choice argument more frequently than with the pro-life movement, simply because the laws as they exist left him no other room. Yet Planned Parenthood came out and said that the man would undoubtedly “turn back the clock” to the time of “illegal, back-alley abortions.”

The Democratic representation of the man’s failings is nothing short of a distortion, and totally—let me repeat: totally, one hundred percent—based on irrelevant, emotional or political arguments. That the man is a Roman Catholic and considers abortion murder nevertheless did not stop him from upholding the secular abortion laws of the country. In other words, in this and other matters, he has shown his ability to separate his private beliefs and political preferences from judging the law as it is.

And then there is that catchphrase that Democrats love to bandy about, that this man is “out of the mainstream.” What does that mean? Are liberal political ideas the mainstream? Surely, the phrase is a euphemism for “not in our looney liberal in-crowd.” It can hardly stand for “average American” since the party is dominated by wealthy New Englanders and Left Coast university professors. Every time Ted Kennedy opened his mouth to paint Alito “out of the mainstream,” I had to wonder: How do you know? You’re a spoiled, overweight, rich drunk who’s part of a famously dysfunctional family. I have one word for you: Chappaquiddick.

The sad thing is that all this posturing by the Democrats has sincerely cheapened the whole meaning of congressional democracy in the country. Since they have apparently thrown out the rule book, what is to keep the Republicans from ignoring all decorum and good manners when it suits them? It sets a scary precedent that may have actually brought the end of civilized political processes a lot closer than we think. The Democrats have resorted to arrogant temper tantrums, running around with their fingers in their ears rather than participating in the political system. By doing this they have given legitimacy to this kind of puerile contempt for dignified debate that is already rampant on the country’s university campuses where the leaders of the future are currently being bred. When they come to power, or maybe even before, a bunch of them might just, in a sort of righteous anger, decide to by-pass the elections and simply march to the Capitol to demand the power they believe is coming to them. That’s the kind of politics they were taught.

That is the truly scary upshot of the Alito confirmation. He won the seat but with a nation of spoiled teenagers stopping their ears with their fingers, whatever he says may not be that important after all.

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