Alito Confirmation Hearings: Day 1 Recap.
So yesterday was Day 1 of the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito. Being the first day, it's not surprising that really not much happened. Here's a basic quick recap:
Judge Alito gave his opening statement. In the statement he recounted his family history and commented on how that history has shaped his world view. With regard to his "judicial philosophy," Alito commented
I'm here in part because of my experiences as a lawyer.
I had the good fortune to begin my legal career as a law clerk for a judge who really epitomized open-mindedness and fairness. He read the record in detail in every single case that came before me; he insisted on scrupulously following precedents, both the precedents of the Supreme Court and the decisions of his own court, the 3rd Circuit.
He taught all of his law clerks that every case has to be decided on an individual basis. And he really didn't have much use for any grand theories.
After my clerkship finished, I worked for more than a decade as an attorney in the Department of Justice.
And I can still remember the day, as an assistant U.S. attorney, when I stood up in court for the first time and I proudly said, My name is Samuel Alito and I represent the United States in this court. It was a great honor for me to have the United States as my client during all of those years.
I have been shaped by the experiences of the people who are closest to me, by the things I've learned from Martha, by my hopes and my concerns for my children, Philip and Laura, by the experiences of members of my family, who are getting older, by my sister's experiences as a trial lawyer in a profession that has traditionally been dominated by men.
And, of course, I have been shaped for the last 15 years by my experiences as a judge of the court of appeals.
During that time, I have sat on thousands of cases - somebody mentioned the exact figure this morning; I don't know what the exact figure is, but it is way up into the thousands - and I have written hundreds of opinions.
And the members of this committee and the members of their staff, who have had the job of reviewing all of those opinions, really have my sympathy.
I think that may have constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
I've learned a lot during my years on the 3rd Circuit, particularly, I think, about the way in which a judge should go about the work of judging. I've learned by doing, by sitting on all of these cases. And I think I've also learned from the examples of some really remarkable colleagues.
When I became a judge, I stopped being a practicing attorney. And that was a big change in role.
The role of a practicing attorney is to achieve a desirable result for the client in the particular case at hand. But a judge can't think that way. A judge can't have any agenda, a judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case and a judge certainly doesn't have a client.
The judge's only obligation - and it's a solemn obligation - is to the rule of law. And what that means is that in every single case, the judge has to do what the law requires.
Good judges develop certain habits of mind. One of those habits of mind is the habit of delaying reaching conclusions until everything has been considered.
Good judges are always open to the possibility of changing their minds based on the next brief that they read, or the next argument that's made by an attorney who's appearing before them, or a comment that is made by a colleague during the conference on the case when the judges privately discuss the case.
It's been a great honor for me to spend my career in public service. It has been a particular honor for me to serve on the court of appeals for these past 15 years, because it has given me the opportunity to use whatever talent I have to serve my country by upholding the rule of law.
And there is nothing that is more important for our republic than the rule of law. No person in this country, no matter how high or powerful, is above the law, and no person in this country is beneath the law.
Fifteen years ago, when I was sworn in as a judge of the court of appeals, I took an oath. I put my hand on the Bible and I swore that I would administer justice without respect to persons, that I would do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I would carry out my duties under the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
And that is what I have tried to do to the very best of my ability for the past 15 years. And if I am confirmed, I pledge to you that that is what I would do on the Supreme Court.
In addition, numerous senators made their own opening statements.
Senator Specter went to great lengths to comment on the importance of the abortion debate, the balance of congressional and presidential power, and the balance of the court. In particular, Specter made this comment about SCOTUS's rulings that various acts of Congress are unconstitutional:
Another major area of concern is congressional power. And, in recent decisions, the Supreme Court of the United States has declared acts of Congress unconstitutional, really denigrating the role of Congress.
In declaring unconstitutional legislation designed to protect women against violence, the Supreme Court did so notwithstanding a voluminous record in support of that legislation, but because of Congress', quote, "method of reasoning"; rather insulting to suggest that there is some superior method of reasoning in the court.
Senator Leahy took the opportunity to point out that President Bush did not take the opportunity to replace Justice O'Connor with another female or minority candidate. He commented:
The court that serves America should reflect America. This nomination was an opportunity, of course, for the president to make a nomination based on diversity. He didn't, even though there's no dearth of highly qualified Hispanics and African-Americans, other individuals who could well have served as unifying nominees while adding to diversity.
Actually I look -- but that, of course, is the president's choice, Judge, not yours. But I look forward to the time when the membership of the Supreme Court's more reflective of the country it serves.
Leahy also commented on O'Connor's writing specifically indicating limitations on executive power:
And she wrote -- and this is one we should all remember -- she wrote that even war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens. She held that even this president is not above the law. And of course no president, Democratic or Republican -- no president -- is above the law, as neither are you, nor I, nor anyone in this room.
Additionally, Leahy suggested the need for very specific questioning of Alito, in the name of determining Alito's positions as a candidate, rather than simply as someone who will vote in accordance with what Bush desires:
Last October, the president succumbed to partisan pressure from the extreme right of his party by withdrawing Harriet Miers. And by withdrawing her nomination and substituting this one, the president has allowed his choice to be vetoed by an extreme faction within his party before even a hearing or a vote.
Frankly, that was an eye-opening experience to me. It gives the impression that there are those who do not want an independent federal judiciary. They demand judges who will guarantee the results that they want.
And that's why the questions will be asked so specifically of you, Judge.
The nomination is being considered against the backdrop of another revelation: that the president has, outside the law, been conducting secret and warrant-less spying on Americans for more than four years.
This is a time when the protections of Americans' liberties are directly at risk, as are the checks and balances that have served to constrain abuses of power for more than 200 years. The Supreme Court is relied upon by all of to us protect our fundamental rights.
Naturally, other Senators suggested up front that it is improper to ask about specific issues that might come before the court, while others suggested just the opposite. It's clear (and certainly did not require opening statements by anyone to demonstrate) that there is a sharp divide in the Senate about what should be asked of nominees. The more important point, which remains to be seen, is going to be what answers Alito feels he must give to secure confirmation.
For more on yesterday's opening of the confirmation hearings:
SCOTUS Blog (liveblogging yesterday).
AP Transcription (Alito's opening statement).
Washington Post (transcription of Senator's opening statements).
And to keep up with what's going on today:
SCOTUS Blog (liveblogging today).
Samuel A. Alito (liveblogging himself!).