Now that the dust has settled with regard to the SCOTUS hearing for nominee Judge Sam Alito, some observations are in order. Much of the hearing was observed in this corner, though there was more viewing/hearing with regard to the “questioning” of some senators than with others. Far more vicious than in the hearing for Chief Justice Roberts last year were the attack dogs of the democrats, confronted with a very calm, brilliant man whom they couldn’t bait into any show of emotion, as was the case with Roberts, who simply overwhelmed them with both his knowledge and his ability to articulate it. Alito was not as flashy as Roberts, but, whereas Roberts simply talked the senators under the table, Alito merely slid them around on the table. Their frustration was abundantly apparent in both instances. Indeed, senators disappeared in droves after the initial phase was over, having little or no interest in what was obviously a hatchet job and a boring one, at that.
Knowing full well that Alito would give no substantive answers to questions about matters certain to appear before SCOTUS, such as ramifications accruing to Roe/Wade and presidential powers, after they had failed to force him into “boxes,” they resorted, predictably, to an attempt at character assassination. On this point, Alito’s record is impeccable, but they tried nevertheless. One is reminded of the hearings in 1991 on Clarence Thomas, also an Appeals Court judge at the time, in a Senate controlled by the democrats, in which, failing any attempt to discredit the African American who was nominated to replace an African American, Justice Thurgood Marshall, a senatorial staff (Metzenbaum’s[?]) tracked down an obscure woman, Anita Hill, and talked her, apparently, into making sexual harassment charges against Thomas, with whom she had worked in government. Her testimony, along with its “backup” by witnesses drawn out of the woodwork from different places, was so faulty that Senator Spector, rescued her from a certain charge of perjury at one point.
The character assassination angle was all the more tedious and hypocritical because of the prior antics of Senators Kennedy, Biden, and Leahy, whose histories are not all that lily-white. Kennedy will forever be remembered, not for his senatorial accomplishments, but for his causing of the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969, when he was a senator and married. After driving the car in which he and the woman were riding off a bridge into the water, he made his way to the surface, swam a body of water to his hotel, and went to bed, leaving the discovery of her body to others many hours later. If the matter had been reported immediately, she might easily have been saved. Conveniently, hours after the fact, no test for blood-alcohol levels could be made, even if the Massachusetts authorities had been disposed to do so, highly unlikely, at that. Kennedy later aspired to the presidency, but the Chappaquiddick affair, notwithstanding Massachusett’s continuing his incumbency (not surprising for that state), doomed that possibility forever.
Senator Biden, who has already announced his candidacy for the presidential election in 2008, will be trying for the second time. In 1988, he dropped out after Michael Dukakis “outed” him as using parts of the speeches of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. That, of course, constituted plagiarism, dishonesty in stealing the words of other people. Biden is the “ham” of the committee and made a genuine effort to outdo Roberts last year, only to be buried in embarrassment as a result of tangling with the man who didn’t even have a writing pad on his table and could discuss the intricacies of cases with ease. In an effort to disgrace Alito over some sort of organization affiliation, Biden donned a Princeton University cap in the hearing and again made himself look foolish, especially as a serious contender for the presidency.
During the mid-1980s, the heart of the Reagan administration, Leahy served as vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was while in this position of power that he earned the nickname "Leahy the Leaker." According to a 1987 San Diego Union-Tribune report, in a 1985 television appearance Leahy disclosed classified information that one of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's telephone conversations had been intercepted. The information that Leahy revealed had been used in the operation to capture the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and killed American citizens, and the Union-Tribune claimed that Leahy's indiscretion may have cost the life of at least one of the Egyptian operatives involved in that operation. In 1987, The Washington Times reported that Leahy had also leaked secret information about a 1986 covert operation planned by the Reagan administration to overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Leahy allegedly had said, "I thought [the operation] was probably the most ridiculous thing I had seen, and also the most irresponsible," and had threatened to expose the operation to CIA Director William Casey. A few weeks later, details of the plan appeared in The Washington Post, and the operation was cancelled. * Information taken from DISCOVERTHENETWORKS.ORG.
Another example of Leahy revealing confidential information occurred just before the Iran-Contra hearings were to begin, when he allowed an NBC reporter to look through the Senate Intelligence Committee's confidential draft report on the burgeoning scandal. After NBC used the privileged information in a January 1987 report, Leahy came under increasing fire, and after a six-month internal investigation he was forced to step down from his seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Leahy's leak was considered to be one of the most serious breaches of secrecy in the Intelligence Committee's then-10-year history. *Information taken from DISCOVERTHENETWORKS.ORG.
A further personal attack had to do with the Vanguard Mutual Fund, in which Alito was an investor and was cited in a case involving Vanguard. Even though he didn’t have to do so, Alito recused (excused) himself from considering the Vanguard matter before his Appeals Court. The senators viciously hammered on this wholly irrelevant matter, charging that Alito had identified and then unidentified Vanguard as a subject upon which he would invoke recusal, thereby accusing him of dishonesty. It was probable that a staff error or computer glitch was at the root of whatever problem there was, if any. A further attack involved something called CAP in the early 70s, in which alumni organization Alito apparently appeared briefly to protest the removal of ROTC from the Princeton University campus. In later years, CAP did involve itself in some unsavory matters, but Alito had no part in it. Senator Kennedy demanded the records of William Rusher, either founder or early leader of the CAP, and had his staff work until 2:00 a.m. on Thursday morning trying to find Alito’s name in them. Alito appeared nowhere in the boxes of documents.
The only issue of substance was that of abortion. Alito held firm to his position that court precedents are important but are nevertheless subject to review and even overturn. This has happened in the past, of course, as Alito noted, and he properly refused to state any positions, claiming correctly that to do so would affirm prejudice on his part in considering cases. The other important issue had to do with presidential powers, a perennial subject in Washington, and, of course, one about which Alito could state no position other than that already spelled out in law. The term “unitary presidency” was batted about, with differing opinions/definitions, but the subject was appropriate, especially to the democrats, in view of the recent wiretapping news. It will be an issue in this election year, but President Bush has at least made it possible to take the position that only those with something to hide need to be concerned. People are more anxious about national security than they are about wiretaps and investigations into library computers. The committee attack dogs claimed that Alito favored the presidency over the Congress when push came to shove.
The democrats would be crazy even to consider a filibuster. All republican members of the committee have announced their affirmative vote, and the consensus seems to be that Alito will be confirmed. He will not receive as many votes as Roberts did (78) and probably will get little more than a strictly partisan approval, 55-60 votes.