On his final day
before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Supreme Court
nominee Samuel Alito covered some new ground as senators
conducted a third round of questioning. Other
witnesses testified on the nomination. Here are some highlights:
--Sandra Day O'Connor: Alito said
O'Connor, whom he would replace on the court, will be
remembered for her devotion to the facts of the cases that
come before her. Alito said he would try to emulate "her
integrity and her dedication to the case-by-case
process of adjudication." Asked by Sen. Herb Kohl, a
Democrat from Wisconsin, whether he would fill
O'Connor's role as a centrist on the court, Alito said he
will be his own person with "whatever abilities I have
and whatever limitations I have."
--Stare decisis: On the principle that a
court should adhere to principles laid down in
previous decisions, Alito said courts need a special
justification for overruling a prior precedent. He also said
reliance on a precedent and its reaffirmation in
subsequent decisions are important factors to
consider. "But I've also said it's not an inexorable
command," Alito added.
--Discrimination: Alito told Wisconsin's
other senator, Democrat Russell Feingold, "I
can't think of a reason" why Congress would not have
the power to prohibit employment discrimination
against gays and lesbians, although he said he would have to
see the arguments.
--Right to die: Sen. Patrick Leahy, a
Democrat from Vermont, brought up the
controversial case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who
suffered a brain injury in 1990 that left her in what some
doctors called a "persistent vegetative state."
Schiavo was at the center of a fierce fight between
her husband and family over her fate. Leahy asked
whether patients with a living will can designate somebody
to speak for them "in a case of terrible injury" or unconsciousness.
"Yes, senator," Alito responded, "that's, I
think, an extension of the traditional right that I
was talking about that existed under common law. And
it's been developed by state legislatures, and in some
instances by state courts, to deal with the living will
situation and with advances in...medical technology,
which create new issues in this area."
--Concerned Alumni of Princeton: Alito's
membership in the conservative organization that
opposed the admission of women and minorities at
Princeton University was examined closely by senators. Marna
Tucker, D.C. circuit representative for the American
Bar Association, testified, "We were very concerned
about the membership of that and what happened. And
all of the people we spoke to on the courts, women and
minorities, people who he had worked with...almost
universally said that they saw no bigotry, no prejudice."
--Government power: Goodwin Liu, a law
professor at Boalt Hall School of Law at the
University of California, Berkeley, agreed that Alito has
"an exceptionally talented legal mind," according to his
written testimony. But he wrote that the "concern is
Judge Alito's lack of skepticism toward government
power that infringes on individual rights and
liberties. Throughout his career, with few exceptions, Judge
Alito has sided with the police, prosecutors,
immigration officials, and other government agents."