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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Alito Clash

On November 1, one day after President Bush nominated Alito to the Supreme Court, I wrote:

[S]ome conservatives are crowing that Alito is a true conservative, someone who can be counted on.  Meanwhile, other conservatives are trying to reassure the left that he's no ideologue, no firebreather--just a man of unique intelligence, unquestioned ability, and strong principle. . . .

At some point, these narratives have to clash, don't they?

This question has bothered me since then, and has only become sharper as time marches on.

Take a look at this Knight Ridder article, which declares that Alito's judicial record shows him to be very conservative.  That's exactly the record that led conservative wise man James Dobson to declare:

We are extremely pleased by President Bush's selection of Judge Samuel Alito. . . .  As a federal judge for the last 15 years, Judge Alito has demonstrated that he understands the role of the judiciary is to interpret existing law in light of the Constitution, not make new law in service to a personal political agenda.

And guess who else is happy, and for the same reasons?  Jerry FalwellEd WhelanAnn Coulter.  And who can forget Alito himself declaring fidelity to the conservative agenda?  Mind you, I'm not suggesting that Falwell, Whelan, Coulter, and Dobson all share the same view of conservatism or agree on any particular issue.  The point is that they would all tell you that they are committed to movement conservatism and judicial conservatism in particular--and they all support Alito for that reason.

But take a look at this rebuttal to the Knight Ridder article by the Senate Republican Conference.  The rebuttal is careful to take up only factual claims of the authors, for instance that Alito has never sided with African-Americans (which strikes me as patently absurd on its face, despite my not knowing as much as I should about Alito's record), without attacking their conclusion that he is, in fact, very conservative.  But frankly, what purpose could the SRC have if not to sow doubt concerning that conclusion?  The SRC doesn't generally make it its business to fact-check media stories, does it?

Add to that the White House's ridiculous insistence that Alito's past statements about Roe tell us nothing about what he would do.

And then you have the interesting spectacle of Alito's former clerks trotting out their liberal bona fides and declaring that Alito is not really that conservative.  (I don't put links in because I'm lazy.  But if you've been following the Alito nomination, you've seen these people quoted everywhere from the very beginning.  And if you haven't been following the nomination, why have you read this post this far?)

Well, which is it?  The law clerks, the White House, and the Senate Republican Conference, who don't want you to think that Alito is conservative; or the Knight Ridder article and Dobson, Coulter, Falwell, and Whelan, who are excited precisely because they think he is very conservative?  They can't all be right!

James Dobson said something revealing at the very beginning of this process:

Perhaps the most encouraging early indication that Judge Alito will make a great justice is that liberal senators such as Harry Reid and Charles Schumer and leftist pressure groups such as People for the American Way and Planned Parenthood have been lining up all day to scream that the sky is falling. Any nominee who so worries the radical left is worthy of serious consideration.

Dobson's position is not without merit.  It is defensible to make a judgment on an issue based on what your opponents think about it, because your opponents' reaction can reveal a lot.  It doesn't always work, of course, and I personally don't generally trust this technique very much.

But if those are the rules Dobson is playing by, then he shouldn't be surprised or upset of committed liberals take him at his word on Alito, and ignore conservatives who say otherwise.

Posted by Hillel Levin on December 8, 2005 at 12:03 PM in Hillel Levin | Permalink

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