November 29, 2005

An Alito Post

The Alito nomination has been on a low simmer for a while now, which isn't quite as exciting as the Roberts or Miers nominations but has given us a little while longer to ponder him as a person and the process in general. Check below the flip for the rest...

So here's an article about how Alito was a member of a Princeton alumni organization that had a particularly racist and sexist bent. Mostly it seems like the organization was founded in the early 70s after Princeton started admitting more than token numbers of women and minorities because some of the crusty white dudes didn't like the change. They published a periodical espousing these ideas as well as several shadier tactics to make their ideas known. Alito was a member of this organization and when he applied for a government job in '85 he was comfortable enough with his membership to list it on his resume. He was born in 1950, so in '85 he was 35 years old.

So my question to you readers is, how much, if at all, do you all think this should matter? Is it far enough in the past to forgive? Were times different enough back then that this isn't a big deal? On the other hand, does this rise to the level of being something that you think should kill, all on its own, his nomination? What bearing, if any, does this have on whether you think he could do a good job as a judge?

Now, I know it's easy to jump to your conclusion mat if you already have an opinion on Bush's nominees generally, but I also hope we get some discussion of how much stuff like this should matter when we're confirming Supreme Court nominees. The bottom line is that even though law nerds like myself tend to really get jazzed up about these sorts of things the Supreme Court affects all of your lives in material ways and we should all be at least as interested in getting good justices as we are in getting good presidents.

4 comments:

wampa1 said...

judges, like porn stars or nascar drivers, are predisposed according to certain life experiences. unfortunately, their personal biases may not titillate mullet-clad litigants so much as hinder their efforts to stave off an unjust verdict or judgment. to me, the most important criteria for deciding whether to confirm alito should be the quality of his reasoning and application of precedent in past cases, rather than membership in a stuffy, narrow-minded alumni organization.

Noumena said...

On the other hand, at least one of the major roles the Supreme Court is supposed to play in our system is protecting minorities (in whatever sense, not just women or black people or gay people or what have you) from the ignorance and indifference of the majority: the Supremes are supposed to be the check that prevents us from falling into mob rule, and this is why we have a republic rather than a democracy. Now, it appears a nominee to the Supreme Court had his membership in a certain group on his CV for a good chunk of his professional life; a group that was quite explicitly dedicated, at least in part, to keeping power away from the minority. This isn't a solid indication that this nominee thinks the same today, of course, but it is a piece of data that must not be neglected.

An ordinary jurist has relatively little room to maneouvre, and her job is, essentially, to simply apply precedent to the issue at hand. It seems to follow immediately that someone is a good jurist -- at this level -- if, and only if, they are knowledgable about precedent and offer sound legal arguments.

However, a justice on the Supreme Court has a much broader job. Yes, she will apply precedent to particular circumstances like an ordinary jurist; but, along with the representatives in Congress, the President, and of course her fellow justices, a Supreme Court justice is responsible for determining the ends and goals of the state. To the extent Alito's membership in this organization indicates he does not believes today that an end to discrimination based on ethnicity and gender are appropriate goals for the state to pursue, he will be unwilling, and thus unable, to fulfill at least some of his duties as a justice.

Noumena said...

Check out this week's Tom the Dancing Bug, just posted on Salon.

Brian said...

Excellent post. Nicely sums up why and why not one person or another should be a supreme court justice. While life experience and personal beliefs should not weigh on one individual's take in interpreting the constitution, they unfortunately do and when the person in question has a personal history of being involved in racist and sexist organizations -- that can easily spell doom for today's constitutional freedoms as we know them.

Additionally, I love the reference to Office Space in the post.