Liberals rap Alito’s anti-Roe stance

Liberals said yesterday that Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s 1985 claim that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion” proves that he would try to outlaw the practice.

“He opposes a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive freedom,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal People For the American Way.

Mr. Neas cited a document, first reported in The Washington Times yesterday, in which Judge Alito said, “I personally believe very strongly” that no right to an abortion can be found in the Constitution. The document was part of a job application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III.

Democrats on Capitol Hill also reacted strongly, with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts saying the “extreme statements … are deeply troubling.”

“Judge Alito was clearly trying to pass a litmus test to get a promotion,” Mr. Kennedy said. “By his own admission, he was pledging his allegiance against established Supreme Court decisions on … a woman’s constitutional right to privacy.”

One Judiciary Committee liberal said the memo means Democrats should not accept refusals to answer hypothetical questions, a strategy used by nominees to deflect questions on abortion since the defeat of Judge Robert H. Bork, a Reagan nominee to the Supreme Court.

“Past nominees have said they could not discuss these issues for fear of creating a perception of bias,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “Here, unfortunately, the memo itself creates the perception of bias, and it will be crucial for this nominee to address the issue head-on.”

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman, partially agreed, saying that although senators should not “ask him head-on” about whether he would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutional right, Judge Alito can expect closer questioning on the history of abortion jurisprudence.

“I think that it is more reason to question him closely at the hearing as to what impact the 38 cases [on abortion] have had since Roe. He made that application in 1985, 12 years after Roe, and a lot has happened since then,” Mr. Specter said.

Republican supporters of Judge Alito said the nominee’s sentiments were no different than those of another young lawyer who served in the Reagan administration, John G. Roberts Jr. In September, the Senate voted 78-22 to confirm him as chief justice.

But liberals said documents from that era show a crucial distinction between the two men when it came to the issue of abortion.

“Unlike Chief Justice John Roberts, Alito says these are his own strong personal views and not just those of the administration he was working for,” Mr. Neas said.

Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., added, “This document shows Judge Alito’s judicial philosophy is far more dangerous to the health and safety of American women than the public may have thought.”

Conservatives countered that even many liberal legal scholars share Judge Alito’s doubts about the constitutionality of Roe vs. Wade.

“Judge Alito’s statement in 1985 reflects a legal view that has been widely held among judges, lawyers, and legal scholars from across the political spectrum, who have widely divergent views on the proper abortion policy,” said Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network.

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