President Bush’s nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court drew quick praise from religious conservatives. That includes some who were unconvinced that Bush’s first choice, Harriet Miers, had the credentials or judicial record to guarantee she would vote as a conservative in cases involving abortion rights and homosexuality.
Liberals, meanwhile, galvanized in opposition to Alito. A conservative judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, he has supported limits on abortion and lowering the wall of separation between church and state and questioned a policy against harassment of homosexuals.
Gary Bauer of the conservative group American Values called the choice of Alito “outstanding” and praised the president’s selection for the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Jay Sekulow of Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice called Bush’s selection of Judge Alito a “wise choice.”
Jan LaRue of Concerned Women for America gave “wholehearted support” to the nomination.
Sekulow had also supported Bush’s pick of Miers, who withdrew from consideration last week after the White House tried unsuccessfully for three weeks to shore up support for her nomination, which had divided the president’s conservative base.
LaRue was among those on the religious right opposing Miers, unconvinced by assurances that she would rule as a conservative against abortion and gay marriage out of loyalty to the president and because of she is an evangelical Christian.
“Jimmy Carter claims to be an evangelical, and I wouldn’t want him on the Supreme Court,” LaRue said.
LaRue said Alito, on the other hand, is “eminently qualified and has a consistent record as a conservative constitutionalist during the past 15 years.”
“Judge Alito has always been one of our top choices for the Supreme Court,” said 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.”
Civil-liberties groups, meanwhile, criticized Alito as a “far right” jurist likely to roll back protections on abortion, gay rights and the separation of church and state.
“President Bush put the demands of his far-right political base above Americans’ constitutional rights and legal protections by nominating federal appeals court Judge Samuel Alito to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” said Ralph Neas of People For the American Way. “Right-wing leaders vetoed Miers because she failed their ideological litmus test. With Judge Alito, President Bush has obediently picked a nominee who passes that test with flying colors.”
Karen Pearl of Planned Parenthood said his confirmation “would radically transform the Supreme Court and create a direct threat to the health and safety of American women.”
“Our Constitution does not belong to one narrow ideology. It belongs to all of us,” said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights organization.
The American Civil Liberties Union urged senators to “carefully examine” Alito’s record on civil liberties.
In 1992, Alito was lone dissenter in a ruling that a Pennsylvania law requiring women to inform their spouse before getting an abortion was unconstitutional.
The case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, went on to the Supreme Court, resulting in a 6-3 decision that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his dissent, quoted Alito’s dissent and said he agreed with his reasoning.
Sandra Day O’Connor, a swing vote in several court rulings on abortion, shot down the husband-notification provision, but four of the court’s most conservative justices wrote that they would like to revisit and overturn Roe v. Wade.
In another high-profile case, Judge Alito authored a 2001 decision in Saxe v. State CollegeAreaSchool District 240 that declared unconstitutional a public school district policy that prohibited harassment against students because of their sexual orientation or other characteristics. Opponents said it would interfere with students’ ability to express their beliefs that homosexuality is a sin.
In ACLU-NJ v. Schundler in 1999 Alito was part of a majority opinion finding that a holiday display in Jersey City didn’t violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, because in addition to a creche and a menorah, it also had a Frosty the Snowman and a banner hailing diversity.
He wrote a ruling last year in Child Evangelism Fellowship of New Jersey v. Stafford Township School District allowing members of a “Good News Club” to distribute materials to students in elementary schools, to post materials in the schools and to participate in back-to-school nights and distribute material there.
Alito rejected the school district’s argument that distributing the religious material would violate the Establishment Clause because young students would perceive such distribution as government endorsement of religion.
Other opinions by Alito support making it harder for individuals to sue for discrimination based on gender, age, race or disability and for sexual harassment.
He supported New Jersey’s prison system in labeling a group called Five Percent Nation as a security threat, even though a dissenting judge said officials should have required far more evidence that the FNP was actually a violent group.
He also opposed arguments based on affirmative action, immigration, worker rights and consumer safety.
In 2004, police officers obtained a warrant to search the home of a man suspected of drug dealing. While there they encountered the suspect’s wife and 10-year-old daughter. They decided to strip-search both, even though they were not named in the warrant.
Alito dissented from a decision that the search invaded their privacy. He argued that the warrant could be read to authorize a search of anyone on the premises.
He dissented from a 1996 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of a federal law banning the possession of machine guns, arguing that Congress had no authority to regulate private gun possession.
A 55-year-old father of two, Alito received a bachelor’s degree from Princeton in 1972 and a law degree from Yale in 1975. Alito served from 1981-1985 as assistant solicitor general in the Reagan Justice Department where he argued at least 12 cases before the Supreme Court. He was deputy assistant U.S. attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice from 1985-1987 and U.S. Attorney for New Jersey under President George H.W. Bush from 1987-1990.
The senior President Bush nominated Alito in 1990 to the Third Circuit, which includes New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The Senate confirmed him by unanimous consent on April 27, 1990.
Alito would become the fifth Catholic sitting on the current Supreme Court, making it the first time in history that a majority of justices on the nation’s high court are Catholic.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.