Alito boasts of his work against abortion during Reagan years

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Twenty years ago, Samuel Alito was just trying to catch the eye of Reagan administration officials looking to fill a political slot in the Justice Department.

But the young conservative's boast about being "particularly proud" of his work helping to argue that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" may now make it more difficult for him in his quest to join the Supreme Court.

"This is the strongest statement we've seen from a nominee on this very controversial subject for a long time," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold Alito's confirmation hearing.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who was confirmed by the Senate in September, was able to avoid many questions about abortion during his confirmation by saying he spent his time in the federal government arguing his bosses' opinions, not his own.

But Alito put his personal opinion out there in 1985 when he sent a document to the Reagan administration, along with his application to become a deputy assistant attorney general, saying his previous government work had included helping "to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly."

"I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government argued that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion," wrote Alito, who was then working for the solicitor general's office.

Republicans and Democrats already are planning to zero in on that statement at his confirmation hearing.

"I think that it is more reason to question him closely at the hearing," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who will run Alito's Jan. 9 hearings as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"When he comes before the Senate, Judge Alito faces a heavy burden of demonstrating that he no longer holds these extremely troubling views and would bring an open mind and a real commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., one of several senators who will meet with Alito privately on Tuesday.

Alito's opponents fear that he and recently confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts would swing the Supreme Court to the right and lead to the overturning of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights.

Alito, 55, has told senators in his two weeks of private meetings that he has "great respect" for Roe v. Wade as a precedent, but he did not commit to upholding it.

Alito "joins a long list of jurists who have written that Roe was wrongly decided, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg before she was confirmed to the court," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a Judiciary Committee member. "The question is whether he will put his personal views aside as any judge should and base his rulings on what the Constitution says. His long track record as a federal appeals court judge shows that he has indeed put his personal views on abortion aside, and I have every confidence he will continue to do so."

The document was included in more than 100 pages of material about Alito released by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library on Monday.

Some abortion rights groups already have come out against Alito because of his work as a federal appellate judge, including a dissent on an appeals court decision striking down a law requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.

But White House spokesman Steven Schmidt said Alito's 15 years as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shows "a clear pattern of modesty, respect for precedent and judicial restraint."

When he wrote this document, he was working as an assistant to the solicitor general, where he stayed from 1981 to 1987. Although he sought the job of deputy assistant attorney general in 1985, he did not win that job until 1987.

In the document, Alito declared himself a "lifelong registered" Republican and a Federalist Society member, and said he had donated money to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Conservative Political Action Committee and several GOP candidates.

"I am and always have been a conservative and an adherent to the same philosophical views that I believe are central to this administration," Alito said.

Alito also wrote that he believed "very strongly in limited government, federalism, free enterprise, the supremacy of the elected branches of government, the need for a strong defense and effective law enforcement and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values."

Kennedy, another Judiciary Committee member, wrote to Alito on Monday questioning his explanations for ruling on a Vanguard case after telling the committee in 1990 that he would recuse himself from cases involving that company.

Alito holds six-figure investments with Vanguard.

In a Thursday letter, Alito told senators he was "unduly restrictive" in promising to avoid Vanguard's appeals cases, and he did not believe he was required to disqualify himself on the basis of ownership of shares in a mutual fund. The White House has added that there was a computer glitch that allowed the disqualification issue to slip through undetected.

The Vanguard name was prominent throughout the case, Kennedy said. "Surely, whatever the system, the oversight should have been obvious when the case reached you," the letter said.


On the Net:

Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov

Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov/

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