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Alito's Pro-Internment Witness: "You Can Forget About Civil Rights"

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If there's another terror attack on American soil, you can forget about civil rights. That's according to Peter Kirsanow, who will testify to Samuel Alito's civil rights credentials before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Kirsanow is a conservative African-American member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and recent backdoor Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board. His mere presence today as a pro-Alito witness raises serious questions about the nominee's willingness to protect established legal precedent on civil rights.

On July 19, 2002, during a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights meeting with Arab-American groups in Detroit, Kirsanow warned that if there's another terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights."

Kirsanow continued by urging his audience to drop their opposition to the Patriot Act. After all, he said, if Arabs attack the U.S. again, "not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling." To Kirsanow, crushing civil rights is just fine as long as "too many people" don't complain.

As a lawyer, Kirsanow established his reputation by successfully defending big business against unionization drives and lawsuits from exploited workers, including one who died from a workplace injury (for more on Kirsanow's legal history, read Bill Berkowitz's excellent profile). He is a former member of the African-American conservative front group, Project 21, which is run out of the offices of the National Center for Public Policy Research. Jack Abramoff, who was a NCPPR board member, funnelled over $1 million in Indian casino money through the organization, some of which paid for international junkets for Tom Delay.

Fancying himself a self-made man, Kirsanow preaches the Randian gospel of personal responsibility. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 2002, he declared that that affirmative action had "metastasized into a racial spoils system consisting of preferences, quotas and set-asides."

Compare Kirsanow's language to to that of a 1983 essay, "In Defense of Elitism," published by Prospect, the journal of the Concerned Alumni for Princeton, to which Alito belonged: "People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns blacks and hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and hispanic, the physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports, and homosexuals are demanding that government vouchsafe them the right to bear children."

The difference between Kirsanow and the bigots of Princeton's glory days is only skin deep. If he is the best the Republicans can muster to sell Alito's civil rights record, the future of the Supreme Court looks grim at best.