OP-EDS

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November 3, 2005

Sam Alito is not as bad as some might think

George W. Bush succeeded to further sever his ties with his New Haven alma mater this past Monday through the nomination of the Tiger-turned-Bulldog Samuel Alito, Jr. to the highest court in the land. “Scalito’s” apparent shirking of perhaps the greatest New England Ivy League rivalry, attending Princeton as an undergrad and Yale for law school, is arguably only a minor issue though in the greater scope of his nomination.Many a prominent democrat, namely Harry Reid, would argue Judge Alito is simply a means for George Bush’s staff to reclaim his conservative base in a time of peril. The validity of such a notion is striking considering Judge Alito was initially appointed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 1990 by the first installment in the Bush presidential legacy. At the same time, Scalito seemingly possesses a level of intellect and open-mindedeness uncharacteristic of recycled H.W. Bush staff members.

It is true that the nature of Alito’s dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey appears to be a page torn out of Rick Santorum’s new proto-fascist manifesto It Takes a Family. However, there is Saxe v. State College Area School as well, in which Alito ensured the right of young men and women to express themselves at school in a manner of which Senator Santorum would most likely not approve. Could Scalito truly be some sort of—compassionate conservative? On the other hand, Scalito, which vaguely suggests a character from an Al Pacino movie, is doubtless an ominous nickname. Can Judge Alito help Antonin Scalia “revive” the Constitution of our forefathers?

The concerns of the left, of course, are not without merit considering that Judge Alito will surely be confirmed to the Supreme Court at some point. His record as a conservative judge is certainly not as strong as that of Judge Roberts but he indisputably represents what scholars of the Supreme Court would label the summa cum laude class of jurists. Furthermore, any Supreme Court nominee following Harriet Miers is bound to seem a judicial luminary by comparison. As for the man himself, evident from his position on Planned Parenthood, he will hardly fill the centrist gap left by Justice O’Connor. Nevertheless, the nickname is premature: Samuel Alito, Jr. is neither a Pacino-esque gangster nor even more importantly still, Justice Antonin Scalia II.

Perhaps Judge Alito’s staunch conservative stand in Planned Parenthood should not be interpreted in such black and white terms. Maybe Alito’s position in this particular case should be understood more as an assertion than anything else. Judge Alito turned out to be the sole dissenter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There is no doubt that Alito had some conception of what he was up against in Planned Parenthood prior to revealing his provocative position. It is merely being suggested that perhaps Alito’s staunch conservatism might have been somewhat dulled by a stronger conservative presence on his side of the case. In other words, just maybe Judge Alito found the status of lone dissenter in a high-profile federal court case a little too hard to resist. Perhaps some degree of likemindedness in the context of Planned Parenthood may have dulled Judge Alito somewhat.

Judge Samuel Alito, Jr. may very well be a Rick Santorum in his own personal household but it seems unlikely that he will be reading It Takes a Family as a Supreme Court justice. Whether Scalito will succeed in shoring up G.W.’s conservative base or not, he is nonetheless not a bad pick for America. Politics aside, Harriet Miers was an amateur, Judge Alito as professional as they come. The criteria for selecting the best judge for the job have always been far too ambiguous. Which is more significant, ideology or judicial merit? Judge Alito is a brilliant jurist and he is no Scalia. George W. Bush’s staff most likely selected Alito with the sole intention of saving their boss’s sagging approval rating, yet far and few between are the Supreme Court justices that are not part of the political agenda of the President of the United States in some way, shape, or form.