- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. is lucky that Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not one to nurse a grudge.

More than a dozen years ago, the Pennsylvania Republican was so incensed at government plans to close the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard that he filed a lawsuit and personally took the case all the way to the Supreme Court before ultimately conceding defeat.

Along the way, Mr. Specter, a former Philadelphia district attorney, twice argued the case before a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and got favorable rulings, with one judge dissenting.

That judge was Judge Alito.

Now, the roles are reversed, and it is Mr. Specter who will wield the gavel when Judge Alito appears before the Judiciary Committee in January on his nomination to the Supreme Court.

The senator has promised Judge Alito a “a very, very thorough review” and close questioning on the question of abortion rights. The shipyard case hasn’t been an issue.

“I’d forgotten about it. That was yesterday,” Mr. Specter said last month after meeting with the judge.

Judge Alito had been on the federal bench for just two years in 1992 when Mr. Specter’s lawsuit first came before him, challenging a recommendation by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission to shut down the shipyard as part of a broader effort to close dozens of unnecessary bases and save $1.5 billion.

Twice, Judge Alito sided with a district judge who wanted to dismiss the case, finding that the lawsuit would frustrate Congress’ intention to avoid lengthy delays in base closures caused by litigation.

“Congress was acutely aware that for more than a decade before the passage of these laws, every attempt to close or realign a major base in this country had been blocked by Congress itself or by the courts,” he wrote in a 1992 dissent. “Congress undoubtedly recognized that objective and prompt decisions concerning base closings are vitally important, particularly at a time of budgetary problems and rapidly changing defense needs.”

Ultimately, although the 3rd Circuit Court’s majority opinions supported Mr. Specter and a coalition of politicians, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against them in May 1994, lining up in accord with Judge Alito’s dissent.

Mr. Specter attached great importance to the issue, writing in his memoir that “this was my case.”

“I had organized, nurtured and developed it. I was the lead plaintiff and had participated in the legal preparation and court arguments at every stage.”

Philadelphia attorney David Pittinsky, who worked with Mr. Specter on the case, recalls that the issue was a hot topic at the time.

“Everybody was trying to save the shipyard,” he said. “It was a big deal.”

About 7,000 civilian jobs were at stake, along with thousands more in support industries. The base ceased operations in 1995.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide