Ethnic Ties Are Not Enough
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.