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Gay groups wary
of Bush court pick

Gay groups wary
of Bush court pick


President George W. Bush has nominated Samuel Alito to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and gay rights groups are seeing red flags.

President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito on Monday to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court, and gay rights groups are seeing red flags. "President Bush capitulated to the howling from the extreme, evangelical right and threw them red meat in the form of U.S. circuit court judge Samuel Alito," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The country will now be put through a wrenching, divisive, and damaging confirmation process. One more travesty inflicted on this nation by the president and his right-wing allies." Added Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal: "Judge Alito's track record on reproductive freedom, enforcement of civil rights, and federalism [respect for Congress's power to enact important statutes like civil rights laws] raises potential red flags for Lambda Legal and merits particular scrutiny." In 2001, Alito authored a decision in Saxe v. State that declared unconstitutional a public school district policy that prohibited harassment against students because of their sexual orientation or other characteristics, according to Lambda. The policy focused only on harassment that had the purpose or effect of interfering with a student's educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. Nonetheless, Alito reasoned that the policy was unconstitutional because it could cover what he called "simple acts of teasing and name-calling." Many LGBT students report that they are subjected to verbal harassment; LGBT students are at heightened risk for dropping out of school because of harassment and discrimination. "President Bush chose to placate the far right instead of appealing to the fair-minded values of the American people," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Alito is the far right's choice. His record on Congress's power to protect Americans and a woman's right to choose gives us a level of understanding as to why he was the far right's choice. Our Constitution does not belong to one narrow ideology. It belongs to all of us." Alito has been dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. But while Scalia is outspoken and known to badger lawyers, Alito is polite, reserved, and even-tempered. The White House hopes the choice mends a rift in the Republican Party caused by the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, a Bush loyalist, and puts his embattled presidency on a path to political recovery. With the rebuke of Miers, the rising death toll in Iraq, his slow-footed response to Katrina, and last Friday's indictment of top vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Bush's approval ratings are at the lowest ebb of his presidency. Polls show that Democrats and most independents don't approve of his job performance, leaving the conservative wing of his party the only thing keeping Bush afloat politically. If he is confirmed by the Senate, Alito would join another Bush pick on the bench, Chief Justice John Roberts. O'Connor, who is retiring, has been a decisive swing vote in a host of affirmative action, abortion, campaign finance, discrimination, and death penalty cases. Bush believes that Alito has not only the right experience and conservative ideology for the job but also the temperament suited to building consensus on the court. A former prosecutor, Alito has experience off the bench that factored into Bush's thinking, the officials said. "The president has made an excellent choice today, which reflects his commitment to appoint judges in the mold of Scalia and Thomas," said Kay Daly, president of the conservative Coalition for a Fair Judiciary. "It's a pretty predictable move from a politically crippled president," said Democratic consultant Jim Jordan. "Toss out a judicial extremist to pacify his base and provoke a fight that he hopes changes the subject away from indictments and Iraq and Katrina and a soft economy." While Alito is expected to win praise from Bush's allies on the right, Democrats have served notice they will fight it. Senate minority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Sunday that Alito's nomination would "create a lot of problems." Unlike Miers, who has never been a judge, Alito, a jurist from New Jersey, has been a strong conservative voice on the third U.S. circuit court of appeals since Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, seated him there in 1990. Judicial conservatives praise Alito's 15 years on the Philadelphia-based court, a tenure that gives him more appellate experience than almost any previous Supreme Court nominee. They say his record shows a commitment to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, ensuring that the separation of powers and checks and balances are respected and enforced. They also contend that Alito has been a powerful voice for the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech and the free exercise of religion. Liberal groups, on the other hand, note Alito's moniker and say his nomination raises troubling concerns, especially when it comes to his record on civil rights and reproductive rights. Alito is a frequent dissenter on the third circuit, one of the most liberal federal appellate benches in the nation. In the early 1990s, Alito was the lone dissenter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a case in which the third circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses. "The Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems--such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition--that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion," Alito wrote. The case ended up at the Supreme Court, where the justices, in a 6-3 decision, struck down the spousal notification provision of the law. The late chief justice William H. Rehnquist cited Alito's reasoning in his own dissent. Alito, an Italian-American who grew up in Trenton, N.J., has a resume filled with stepping stones to the high court. He was educated at Princeton University and earned a law degree from Yale University, the president's alma mater. (, AP)

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