Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Alito: The Job Application Memo

(This is the second in our series of posts on Justice Samuel Alito. Read the first here.)

Samuel Alito graduated from Princeton in 1972. After stints as a law clerk and an Assistant U.S. Attorney, he joined the Reagan administration as Assistant to the Solicitor General, where he served from 1981-85. He then applied for the job of Deputy Assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese.

In a "personal qualifications statement" accompanying his application for the Deputy Assistant job, Alito wrote:

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

In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions...

Most recently, it has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan's administration and to help advance legal positions to which I personally believe very strongly. I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court...that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion...
(Emphasis added.)

Alito got the job, and served as Deputy Assistant till 1987.

Supporters of Alito's nomination often noted that opposing abortion, as a personal or even political matter, doesn't amount to taking a position on its status under the Constitution. That's plainly correct: One can be against the death penalty, after all, without thinking it's unconstitutional.

But in describing his affinity for the Reagan administration's legal positions above, Alito isn't explaining his personal views. Instead, he's articulating his personal views of the Constitution. His legal views, in other words. And that's a huge difference.

It's especially significant because, at 35, he's writing as a seasoned constitutional lawyer. And because the conclusion he states is simple and unambiguous: That abortion isn't protected by the Constitution. Period.

He's so sure of this, in fact, that he goes out of his way to cite this view as an example of a legal position he holds "very strongly" and the advancement of which he is "particularly proud."

Naturally, to most observers who think the right to an abortion is protected by the Constitution, this was a red flag.

Indeed, The New York Times characterized Sen. Collins' reaction to the memo's public release as follows:

Two other Republican senators who support abortion rights, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, expressed sharp concerns about the statement.
But the junior senator ultimately voted in favor of the nomination.

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