Today was the first day of Q&A between Judge Samuel Alito and the Senate Judiciary Committee in Alito’s confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court. Before I analyze it, I should make the following legal disclaimer: I did not watch the hearing from end-to-end. That said, I did watch a good chunk of it.
How did Alito do today? In whole, he delivered very mixed results. Compared to Chief Justice Roberts‘ performance a few months ago, Alito could not hold a candle. However, compared to mere humans, Alito held up okay.
As a staunch supporter of many traditional conservative principles, I was comforted by much of the responses Alito had to today’s questioning. For the most part, he responded as a traditional conservative would.
Sidebar: Why do I keep using the term "traditional" conservative? Because many contemporary conservatives, and in particular neo-conservatives, have abandoned the traditional principles of conservatism. Instead, the most noted people called conservatives nowadays—especially the president—are actually radicals. Ironically, the definitions of "conservative" and "radical" are almost antonyms. Therefore, when I refer to traditional conservatism, I have to be clear that I do not include neo-conservatives.
There was one response in particular Alito made that I was pleased to hear: “The Bill of Rights applies at all times,” he said. “And it’s particularly important that we adhere to the Bill of Rights in times of war and in times of national crisis, because that’s when there’s the greatest temptation to depart from them.” Then he dotted the ‘i’ by adding, “No person in this country is above the law, and that includes the president and it includes the Supreme Court.”
That’s not to say that Alito’s performance was without flaw. He was subjected to withering questioning by the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Considering that the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, it’s only fair that the scrutiny of all nominees is rigorous, comprehensive, in-depth, and without boundaries. After all, a man of Alito’s age could sit on the bench effecting Americans for well over a generation, so they deserve an eminently qualified justice. However, the Democrats’ questioning of Alito went beyond what’s required to confirm him and extended to the lengths of becoming simply the pursuit of a partisan agenda.
However, his responses to partisan questioning were not the ones that were problematic. Instead, he had a couple of major stumbles in personal matters. First of all, he was asked about his statement that he would recuse himself in any case related to Vanguard mutual funds and his subsequent failure to do so. His response sounded disingenuous, simply saying “I just didn’t focus on the issue of recusal.” Considering numerous references to “Vanguard” in his finding in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, he couldn’t credibly claim to have forgotten his commitment.
His second major stumble was around questioning on his proud reference to membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) that he included in his CV. Under questioning from Democrats, he tried to dismiss his involvement. At one point he claimed to not have been active in the organization, even though he used his membership to help get him a higher-level job in the Reagan administration. His claims to having joined CAP only for its relationship with ROTC rang hollow—at least on the left side of the Hart hearing room. Personally, I doubt that Alito was involved in CAP so much for its exclusionary position towards women and minorities as much as he was to distance himself from his modest roots and cast himself as an elitist, but that’s a weak endorsement.
All in all, Alito was much more forthcoming in this first round of questioning than Chief Justice Roberts was when he faced the committee. This was good because it gives Americans a better picture of what kind of a justice Alito would make than we had of Roberts. However, it also exposed some of his flaws. But in terms of the fundamentals of Alito’s commitment to uphold stare decisis, his penchant for the Constitution & Bill of Rights, and his unequivocal statement that no one is above the law, he fared very well. Stay tuned for round two.