Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ethnic Ties Are Not Enough

As an Italian American historian and writer, I have been the recipient, in recent days, of numerous appeals to join the rallying cry by large Italian American organizations in favor of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, whose forebears were Italian immigrants (there is some dispute about his father, originally Salvatore Alati, who in 1942 claimed New Jersey as his birthplace, but is now said to have come to America at 5 months of age, which would make him just barely an immigrant.)

I have resisted such appeals for the simple reason that a candidate's putative Italian-ness is not nearly enough to override an analysis of the man and his history, and an understanding of what such a history represents.

To begin with, though he may be a brilliant lawyer and capable judge, Samuel Alito is clearly an ideologue whose views on abortion, on presidential authority, and on the privilege of money and power over human rights promise a sharp right turn to a court which is already heavily weighted toward conservatism. He has said, for example, "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." It is for this reason that he is the darling of the religious right, which is literally salivating in anticipation of his providing the swing vote necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade.

But it is not Roe that I am primarily concerned about. Rather, Alito's ascension to the Supreme Court would put him in a position to add a critical vote to those who support virtually unlimited presidential power. At this unprecedented time, when the Bush Administration has revealed its arrogant assumption of the president's right to place himself above the law particularly in authorizing wiretapping on American citizens against both the Constitution and the express action of the Congress forbidding it a justice with Alito's views would be fatal to basic American notions of justice and liberty.

Instead of providing a balance to adjudicate between the power of the presidency and the power of the congress, Alito's prior decisions have shown a clear predilection to not only favor an imperial presidency, but at the same time to curtail the powers of Congress to make laws protecting average Americans. For when it comes to protecting the rights of "little people" as opposed to government officials or corporations, Alito has voted for a state requirement that women notify their husbands before an abortion, voted to strike down a congressionally authorized ban on machine guns, and voted to uphold a strip search of a 10-year-old girl and her mother not named in a search warrant. This is a judge who comes down consistently on the side of power and privilege and against the rights of those who have only the law to protect them.

Listening to Judge Alito in his hearings provides a sensory link to how the man and his opinions are of one piece. His voice has a kind of whine to it. It is the type of whine one associates with people who invariably, throughout life, curry favor with those in authority. The voice of those who, it is easy to imagine, if born in Italy, would have opted to join the priesthood and carefully nurture relationships with power to end up in the Roman Curia narrowly interpreting canon law against any innovation or human consideration. At Princeton, he was a member of CAP (Concerned Alumni of Princeton), an organization "concerned" about the number of women and minorities admitted in recent years. As a lawyer, he moved quickely to seek a government job, and obtained one as counsel in the Reagan White House partly on the basis of his CAP membership and his now-infamous opinion about Roe v. Wade. And as a judge, he has voted in favor, in almost every instance, of corporations and authorities in conflict with the powerless such as the farmers, who, when they were kicked off their farm, were subjected to what Michael Chertoff, now head of Homeland Security, and most others reviewing the case agreed were "Gestapo-like tactics."

Judge Alito, however, dissented, and opined that such tactics were legally defensible and justified. One wonders what the Judge really knows about those immigrant forebears he now claims to honor. One wonders what he would have thought of the authorities who rounded up hundreds and deported them in tyhe infamous Palmer Raids of the 1920s, or of FBI and INS agents who targeted thousands more because of their Italian birth in the 1940s when 600,000 of them were branded enemy aliens. Would he have been so diligent about defending each tiny element of legal authority then?

Perhaps. For it is characteristic of certain types of men that when they or theirs have been subject to discrimination and suspicion in the past, they respond by going over to the far side. Having been accused of disloyalty, they attempt to demonstrate a super-loyalty. Having felt the brutality of power, they attempt to align themselves in every instance on the side of that power, and those who, no matter how imperially or cruelly, administer that power.

This may be historically understandable, but it is no excuse. And so, though Judge Alito may be roughly suitable for the job he now holds on the Third Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court is a different matter. For that critical position, which requires both brains and a heart that is sensitive to the real world, he seems peculiarly unfit.


Blogger Lou Delgado said...

Well written.


4:41 PM  
Blogger bladerunner said...

Let me get this straight....we Democrats expected the Republican controlled Senate to confirm Ruth Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer because they were Clinton's choice. They did even though Ginsburg, for example, was clear she supported Roe v. Wade and was a former ACLU attorney. Now Bush appoints Alito who is no Clarence Thomas or Scalia but a mainstream conservative Judge and Democratic activists and some senators want to change the rules .
Alito received the ABA's well qualified rating--the highest rating--which Democrats in the past have said is the gold standard.
Look, we lost the presidential campaign, just like the GOP lost in 92 and 96. The winner gets to pick their with it. Otherwise we're hypocrites for expecting the GOP to confirm our nominees and not extend reciprocity to a well qualified candidate. If Scalia moves the Court to the right, use that in the 2008 presidential campaign.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the tone of a person's voice is a factor in their capability, I would submit to you that Senator Kennedy's reading of his opening remarks in today's hearing, in which he fails to complete the text obviously written by a cog in the "lets split America - after all, anything goes in our attempt to regain the White House and Congress' Demoncrat party, smacks of incompetence and perhaps a few too many Bloody Marys for breakfast.

The fact that Senator not-so-Fienstein had to remind him to read the last sentence is an embarrassment but I'm sure won't be mentioned in the mainstream press tomorrow.

By DiStasi's definition, Kennedy is unfit for office. Kennedy's attempt at slighting the nominee with his 'guilty by association' tactics (does anybody remember McCarthyism?) with the CAP article (not written by the nominee) is not only a shameless act but a double standard, given Kennedy's checkered past. Beware of history...Kennedy's tactics, supported by the likes of Feinstein, Shumer, Boxer, Bieden...smack of the fascism employed by well known, deadly dictators - guilty until proven innocent, and damned if we're gonna find you innocent.

While I remain an Independent, I cannot withhold comment on the shameless tactics used by the Dems to subvert our administration and the congressional majority. The GOP has certainly made mistakes and isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they sure seem more intent on protecting our country and way of life much. much more than the Dems.

Seems to me 'Splinters' is a perfect name for this Dem blog site as that moniker perfectly captures the Dem strategy to chip away at America. I hope and pray they fail, as I don't want to hear them say 'timber'.....

San Diego, Calif.

11:13 PM  

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