You think you know about Judge Samuel Alito? Think again. After doing some homework, it seems that the man Sam Alito is a lot different than the myth that is being created by all observers. Both the right and the left seem to be making the same assumptions about him that will most likely prove to be invalid. This is not just my opinion, it is the opinion of a dozen people -- mostly Democrats -- who have worked very closely with him over the years.
Let me explain. When President Bush made a Supreme Court pitching change and put Judge Samuel Alito in for relief of Harriet Miers, the reactions were loud and clear, and I wanted to join the crowd. How could I not? As a progressive, all I needed to know about him was that Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer were chortling with glee, while MoveOn.org and People for the American Way were sending hourly emails decrying the Judge. Non-partisan observers like Jonathan Turley took to the airwaves to declare that "there will be no one to the right of Sam Alito on this Court."
Not only did I find out I was wrong in my assumptions, but found out that everyone else is, as well.
Having worked briefly in the Pennsylvania courts and for years in politics, and having extensive connections to those who know Judge Alito the best, I called twelve people -- lawyers and judges -- who worked with Judge Alito, most of whom were Democrats. I figured they would give me some good dirt on him that I could use to help sink his nomination. What I heard shocked me.
"Will he overturn Roe?" I asked one liberal Democrat who argued in front of Judge Alito.
"In my opinion, no," he replied. He went on to explain that he believed Judge Alito would rule in a way that is "mainstream."
What of the much reported fact that his mother declared that he is pro-life?
"He does not let personal views affect his decisions," another told me, who also believed Judge Alito wouldn't overturn Roe.
Yet another offered a warning to both sides, "Democrats will be disappointed in many decisions, and I think Republicans will be as well." Such as what? Could you have counted him to, say, install George W. Bush as President in the case of Bush v. Gore?
"No, you could not count on him," I was told by another Democratic lawyer who argued in front of Judge Alito. "Not unless he felt the facts truly supported it. He is not a political judge or someone who rules from the bench like an ideologue."
Both sides of the political fringe need to take a deep breath and step back, listen to the Judge at his hearings, and read his opinions. The media, most of all, must talk to more sources who know the Judge, off the record, so they can get the complete picture that I am beginning to get.
After talking to my friends in Pennsylvania, and learning more about Judge Alito, it came as no surprise to me that when in college, he wrote in favor of gay rights and against Patriot Act-style government intrusion. It also did not shock me that in three out of four abortion cases in which he ruled, he came down on the side that pro-choice groups were on, including in 1997 when he found that the Constitution does not extend protections to a fetus.
He is far from a liberal activist judge, this much is true. Much attention has been placed on his decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood in which he upheld a law that required spouses to inform their husbands if they were having an abortion. But this case represents a small link in the chain that is his career and views.
The question people have to ask is what constitutes a link that is so invalid that it renders the whole chain weak and un-useful. The left needs to determine whether they are willing to sink a candidate for the court that has expressed pro-choice legal opinions three out of four times, because of the one time he did not. The right needs to stop smiling and think about whether the views he's expressed and the opinions of him from those who have worked with him constitute a chain as strong as they would like.
Both sides might discover, as I did, that this man is not the image they've all created: Judge "Scalito." The more I talked to people, the more I began to think that Judge Alito's last name shouldn't be merged with Justice Scalia's, but we should start calling him "O'Conlito," for the woman he's replacing. Let us not forget, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was a "reliable conservative" when she was appointed, and a choice that liberals lamented while conservatives cheered. This time around, liberals, just chill out a bit. And conservatives: Caveat Emptor.