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November 09, 2005

Judge Alito's Conservative Credentials

The Washington Post has a front page article today that tries to ease liberals fears about the possibility of Roe vs. Wade being overturned. But in fact the article only reinforces Judge Alito's conservative credentials. First, here's the misleading lead paragraph of the article:

Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. has signaled he would be highly reluctant to overturn long-standing precedents such as the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling, a move that has helped to silence some of his critics and may resolve a key problem early in the Senate confirmation process, several senators said yesterday.

At first glance, it would seem that Alito supports Roe. Reading further, it's clear that Alito is merely showing respect for the rule of law:

In private meetings with senators who support abortion rights, Alito has said the Supreme Court should be quite wary of reversing decisions that have been repeatedly upheld, according to the senators who said it was clear that the context was abortion.

"He basically said . . . that Roe was precedent on which people -- a lot of people -- relied, and been precedent now for decades and therefore deserved great respect," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) told reporters after meeting with Alito yesterday. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she had a similar conversation about an hour later with Alito, who has made clear that he personally opposes abortion.

"I asked him whether it made a difference to him if he disagreed with the initial decision but it had been reaffirmed several times since then," Collins told reporters. "I was obviously referring to Roe in that question. He assured me that he has tremendous respect for precedent and that his approach is to not overturn cases due to a disagreement with how they were originally decided."

Collins, Lieberman and others cautioned that they did not directly ask Alito if he would vote to overturn Roe, and that his comments should not be seen as a guarantee of how he may rule. But the conversations appear to be building Alito's resistance to what might be the biggest impediment to his confirmation: liberals' claims that he is a threat to legalized abortion, which most Americans support, according to opinion polls.

One of the hallmarks of conservative jurisprudence is the respect for precedent. This does not mean that every case decided by the Supreme Court is set in stone and can never be overturned. However, it also does not mean that cases can be overturned based on the whims of the judge, either.

Liberal judges are notorious for ignoring precendents and deciding cases based on their own agenda rather than on the facts and the law. Ironically, it's liberals who are making the case that precendents need to be respected especially when it fits their political agenda. Once again, the hypocrisy of the Left is apparent.

But conservatives, especially pro-lifers, didn't help their cause during the debate over Harriet Miers' by insisting on a judge that would state they would overturn Roe. Judicial activism that ignores precedent is never justified even if the goal is admirable.

Respect for the rule of law is what helps maintain an orderly society. Judge Alito clearly respects the rule of law. He should make a terrific Supreme Court Justice.

Posted by Tom at November 9, 2005 10:45 AM

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An interesting exercise for some of you on the right would be to examine the historical record of currently sitting Supreme Court justices to see which ones have voted to strike down more federal statutes. The results might surprise you.

The Rehnquist court has been the most activist court in U.S. history.

Posted by: s9 at November 9, 2005 05:34 PM

I would also note that, if conservatives are hoping that Alito's remarks about stare decisis are likely to mollify progressives concerned about his disposition toward overturning Roe v. Wade, then they shouldn't hold their breath. Our concerns primarily revolve around the right to privacy, and conservatives are not making much headway with their arguments about how it doesn't exist.

If you want to know what progressives are really thinking about this, then I would recommend this post by David Neiwert for its links to a lot of representative opinion.

Posted by: s9 at November 9, 2005 05:47 PM

Slightly off-topic but "progressives" refers to what? By that I mean: toward what are you progressing?

Regarding Roe v. Wade, is there a particular point of that decision that makes it vulnerable? I don't mean "because you bad men want to take it away", I mean: "on what grounds do you fear it will be taken away?"

Posted by: eLarson at November 10, 2005 11:48 AM

eLarson asks: "progressives" refers to what?

Do I have to look up everything for you?

Posted by: s9 at November 11, 2005 09:07 PM

Several months ago at this site I made a similar comment to the one that S9 did about activist judges. Again, for the record, conservative Supremes are much more likely than liberal judges to vote to overturn congressionally enacted laws. Here is a link from a July 6 OpEd to the NYT describing this trend:

In the future please refrain from echoing RNC talking points unless you can substantiate them.

Posted by: dem at November 12, 2005 12:28 AM