- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito told us more about the senators than about Judge Alito.

First, there were long-winded preambles to “questions” for the judge. Then there were the Mickey Mouse maneuvers and insinuations, spiced here and there with outright lies.

The ridiculousness of the charges was classically illustrated by the claim of Sen. Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, that Judge Alito had been part of a group that tried to keep minorities and women out of Princeton. Apparently wanting everyone to meet the same admissions standards is considered the same as opposing minorities and women.

To dramatize his position, Mr. Biden said, “I don’t even like Princeton.” Unfortunately for him, a radio talk show host played that back on the air — along with a speech Mr. Biden gave at Princeton, praising it to the skies.

At the same level of farce was a loud and insistent demand by Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, that the Senate Judiciary Committee issue a subpoena for certain records — though the records were readily available without a subpoena. In fact, the committee had already received the records.

The biggest hypocrisy was asking Judge Alito questions everyone knew no judicial nominee could — or should — answer, and then complaining on nationwide television that the nominee was not “forthcoming” or “responsive.”

None of these ploys had anything to do with determining Judge Alito’s qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court. At most, there were attempts to anger him with insulting questions, in hopes of providing an excuse for Democrats to vote against him and for the weaker Republicans to be afraid to support him.

But Judge Alito remained unruffled and dignified.

The real purpose of all this grandstanding was to play to the gallery of the most rabid element of Democratic Party activists, people like the Hollywood leftists who contribute big bucks and hate everything the administration stands for, as well as most of what most Americans stand for.

Despite the phony issues and overheated rhetoric by some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the only real objection to Judge Alito is that he could become the deciding “swing vote” on a closely divided Supreme Court by replacing Sandra Day O’Connor — and that Judge Alito is unlikely to be as sympathetic to liberal positions as Justice O’Connor has become over the years. That “swing vote” has long been the real issue in Senate confirmation hearings, whether the name of the nominee has been Robert Bork or Samuel Alito.

Before the massive smear campaign that defeated Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court back in 1987, Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously, though he and Bork had voted almost identically on the Circuit Court of Appeals.

On a couple of cases where they voted differently, Justice Scalia took a more conservative position than Judge Bork. Why then was Justice Scalia considered enough in the “mainstream” for his nomination to sail through, while Judge Bork was branded a right-wing “extremist”?

It had nothing to do with Justice Scalia or Judge Bork. If Judge Bork had been nominated first, he would have sailed through and Justice Scalia would have been branded a right-wing extremist, because Justice Scalia would have been the prospective Supreme Court “swing vote.”

Similarly, Judge John Roberts’ nomination as chief justice sailed through because he was just replacing another conservative, while Judge Alito would replace Justice O’Connor, who was more acceptable to the liberals.

Senators who smear and denounce nominees on national TV and later hypocritically assure them privately it was “nothing personal” are, in a certain twisted sense, correct. They would have lied and smeared anyone in the same situation.

This also is not about Samuel Alito personally in a different sense. The larger question is how we will get the good people that we need on our courts, if they have to go through smears and petty harassment during confirmation hearings.

Highly qualified people usually have other options and many may go elsewhere rather than become the butt of cheap political games on nationwide television.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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