In direct, unambiguous language, the young career lawyer who served as assistant to Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, demonstrated his conservative bona fides as he sought to become a political appointee in the Reagan administration.Let the battle begin.
"I am and always have been a conservative," he wrote in an attachment to the noncareer appointment form that he sent to the Presidential Personnel Office. "I am a lifelong registered Republican."...
"It has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan's administration and to help to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly," he wrote.
"I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."...
Although Judge Alito's conservatism has not been particularly evident in his legal rulings, it was abundantly clear in his job application 20 years ago.
"I believe very strongly in limited government, federalism, free enterprise, the supremacy of the elected branches of government, the need for a strong defense and effective law enforcement, and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values," he wrote.
"In the field of law, I disagree strenuously with the usurpation by the judiciary of decision-making authority that should be exercised by the branches of government responsible to the electorate," he added.
The document also provides the clearest picture to date of Mr. Alito's intellectual development as a conservative.
"When I first became interested in government and politics during the 1960s, the greatest influences on my views were the writings of William F. Buckley Jr., the National Review, and Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign," he said. "In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment."
Up until now, the attacks on Alito have been based on nothing of substance. Critics cherry-picked his cases, found the ones where he ruled against sympathetic parties, and treated the outcomes in cases as if there is no legal reasoning involved in reaching outcomes. Or they simply assumed that Alito must be a big right-winger because he (unlike Miers) was not being attacked from the right and conservatives all looked rather happy about having him as the nominee.
With this letter, we enter a new phase of the nomination process, in which the opponents have something very substantial to talk about. And, indeed, they must fight, based on this. I see two aspects to the coming fight.
First, there is the question of what is the better set of values. A lot of people will read Alito's statement and agree with it, while others will oppose it. Some may only care about a few of those issues or may agree about some things and not others. Though most of the talk will be about abortion rights, we have a valuable opportunity to talk about what the full set of conservative legal positions is, to compare them with the liberal positions, and to debate about which is better. I welcome this public debate and hope it can be done well.
Second, there is the question of how personal beliefs affect a judge's performance on the bench. Some will defend Alito by saying a good judge is a humble, faithful servant of the law who sets his personal, political beliefs aside. Related to this is one of Bush's big issues: the liberal judges are activist judges who make the law mean what they would vote for if they were legislators. In this rhetoric, the conservative judges somehow escape the temptation the liberal judges succumb to. As long as you have a conservative judge, the rhetoric goes, you don't have to worry about what his political beliefs are: He will do the proper, judicial thing and not "legislate from the bench" like those bad liberal judges. Those of us who are not political ideologues tend to think that judges try to follow the law, but that the texts and precedents are ambiguous or fluid enough to require some judgment to get to a decision. Thus, the background beliefs and political tendencies of any judge will need to flow into the decision-making, no matter how modest and dutiful the human being making the decision is.