Sunday, January 29, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Under oath, Judge Sam Alito testified he would keep "an open mind" on the question of whether to retain the limited constitutional protection of abortion rights. Yet if his mind is open, it is only by a very small crack. Not even my slim kitten could worm her way through that one.
Abortion was not the only issue at stake but it dominated the debate. A crowd of abortion opponents cheered him this week as their savior -- the justice who would help overturn Roe vs. Wade and toss a woman's privacy rights to the vagaries of state law.
They seemed to know something the senators don't. Likewise, abortion proponents stepped up their futile campaign against him because evidence of his hostility to abortion kept mounting. They, too, instinctively knew something about Alito he wasn't acknowledging. "He has voted to restrict the rights (such as access to abortion) that Americans hold dear," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y, warned.
The first Democrat to come out early for Alito was Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who said he was taking the nominee "for his word." On Thursday he was joined by Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Tim Johnson, S.D.
Nelson is up for re-election this year in a conservative Midwestern state and has his own complex reservations about abortion rights.
Earlier in the week, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats voted unanimously against Alito and their Republican colleagues voted unanimously for him. The Republicans called the Democrats partisan, insisting that Alito be judged on his qualifications alone; the Democrats called the Republicans right-wing robots, insisting that judicial philosophy really does matter.
But nobody was going to judge Alito strictly on his judicial neutrality and temperament. The high court is now as polarized as the rest of government. It was President Bush's pick and he took full advantage of it, after first selecting Harriet Miers, who was dumped for being insufficiently conservative for the right wing.
A highly partisan Supreme Court is not a good thing for the country. The fact is Bush can get away with tilting the court to the right because he has a Senate majority of 55 votes. Traditionally, senators vote in lock-step along party lines when it comes to major issues. And the Democrats have no stomach for a filibuster, which would probably fail anyway.
So with Alito's all-but certain confirmation we will now have to live with an ultra-conservative high court. The scales of justice will tilt against the little guy; it is only a matter of how far.
Source: Marianne Means, in the Times Union.Dave Haigler, Abilene, Texas
lawfirm webpage: www.haigler.info
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