Judging Alito

Experts at Portland State characterized U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as a conservative judicial activist who may swing the balance of the top court decidedly to the right.


“I still question whether or not he will let his passions get in the way of his decisions,” said Amanda Crawford, a member of the College Democrats and first year student at PSU.


With Alito replacing Harriet Miers as the new nominee for the Supreme Court seat, after she withdrew her name from the nomination, dissent has continued to rise from the left and the right has embraced the hope for a swing toward a conservative court.


Hearings for the nomination will not begin until Jan. 9, leaving plenty of time for Alito’s long court history, serving for 15 years on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to be examined, as well as time for liberals to try to prevent the swing by rejecting Alito’s confirmation.


Ron Tammen, director of the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at PSU, said that many Democrats may have felt that Miers was the best nominee that they could get between the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Senate, but believes she withdrew because her chances of success in the nomination were low, and staying in would only hurt the White House.


Tammen views Alito’s conservative views as influencing Supreme Court decisions and possibly even laws. With much controversy over how Alito views on subjects such as abortion, Tammen said that “A slow erosion may lead to the an overturn of Roe v. Wade,” adding that Alito has already made court rulings on the subject of abortion, such as a 1991 Pennsylvania case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld a law requiring women to tell their husbands before they have an abortion. He dissented from the majority decision of his court and the Supreme Court.


Tammen also said that Alito is an example of what he calls a social conservative, separating this group from the classic conservative. He described the classic conservative as the rugged individualist, who believes the government has a role, but that that role should be limited.


Assistant Professor of Political Science David Johns said that Alito was a smart choice for Bush partly because he shares the views of the administration and also because of his strong career.


“Alito is well regarded by many,” said Johns. “People he has worked with say he is someone who is smart, thoughtful and quite methodical. He isn’t a loudmouth ideologue like Scalia.”


Mario Campbell, a senior in finance, member of the Student Fee Committee and member of the College Republicans, said he thinks that Alito’s nomination might lean the court to the more conservative side, and added that he trusts in the president’s decision.


“Miers wasn’t the gal for the job, she wasn’t conservative enough,” Campbell said. “This is the guy, since he is more conservative.”


Junior Solomon Burnov said he hasn’t read much about the nomination, but hopes he will be open minded. “If he isn’t, I don’t want him on there,” he said.


Crawford added that many of middle-class America will feel the same, believing that they are underrepresented with officials such as Alito and Bush representing the right.


In contrast, he views the social conservative, described as a values-based conservatism that he says has taken over the majority of the party during the last 15 to 20 years, tries to combine religious issues with governing, listing off abortion and prayer in schools as examples.


Johns added that Alito is thoughtful and methodic. He believes that Alito does a good job of fulfilling the judicial purpose in second guessing the other branches of the government.


“Alito has shown himself to be an activist,” Johns said, adding that he proves wrong the common belief that liberals are activists and conservatives are not.


Johns does not believe that the Court, with Alito on it, will overturn Roe v. Wade.


“It would clearly weaken Roe, but I doubt it would overturn it,” Johns said.

Tammen said the Supreme Court will have respect for what the Court has decided in other cases.


Some have trouble with Alito’s interpretation of the constitution being from an original intent viewpoint, meaning that he tries to make his decisions based on how the writers of the Constitution would have.


Johns said this can be a difficult issue to navigate, saying that the framers intentionally wrote the document to be quite flexible for later interpretation.


Tammen said that Alito might side with the original intent faction, which he said included Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia.


“It is also reasonably clear that he is a humble and decent man,” Tammen said. “He puts a soft face on conservativism.”