Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday raised the volume of their objections to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. by grilling him over his ties to a Princeton alumni group that they called racist and misogynist.

They also accused Judge Alito of always ruling against “the little guy” and of evading their questions on abortion and such other hot-button issues as his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which opposed the admission of women to the all-male school.

“Explanations about the membership in this sort of radical group and why you listed it on your job application are extremely troubling,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “And, in fact, I don’t think that they add up.”

Mr. Kennedy demanded during yesterday’s hearing that records about the group be subpoenaed, and panel chairman Arlen Specter secured access to the documents during yesterday’s lunch break. By yesterday afternoon, staffers for Democrats and Republicans were going through the records at the Library of Congress, a task expected to be finished by this morning.

Republicans dismissed the dust-up — the most dramatic exchange in three days of hearings — as a desperate, last-ditch effort by Democrats to stop certain confirmation of Judge Alito.

“Your critics are, I think, grasping at any straw to tarnish your record,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

“It’s kind of like we’re in the fourth quarter of a football game, and you’re the quarterback,” he said. “Your team is way ahead here in the fourth quarter, and opponents are very desperate, keep trying to sack you and aren’t doing a very good job of it.”

But it did get to Judge Alito’s wife, Martha, who sat directly behind him.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, questioned the nominee about his association with the alumni group in an effort to portray Democratic accusations as ridiculous.

“Are you really a closet bigot?” he asked.

“I am not any kind of bigot. I’m not,” Judge Alito replied.

“No, sir, you’re not,” agreed Mr. Graham. “You seem to be a decent, honorable man.”

During the exchange, Mrs. Alito left the hearing room in tears. She later returned to her seat and resumed her constant smile for the rest of the day.

“Graham’s statement brought out some long-held emotions about how he was being characterized,” former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, who is assisting the Bush administration on the nomination, told reporters later. “Her emotions just caught up with her after 2 1/2 days of hearing her husband’s record mischaracterized.”

Several Democrats made it clear yesterday that after a placid first two days, they were waging an election-year fight.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, expressed frustration with Judge Alito’s answers on abortion, in which the nominee said he could not commit to voting one way or another and had to keep an “open mind” on issues that might appear before the court.

“Judge Alito has responded, but he has not answered,” Mr. Schumer complained.

Democrats also said they didn’t believe Judge Alito’s “open mind” reassurance on abortion, which he gave Tuesday.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the judge’s past statements, including a 1985 job application letter in the Reagan administration, reveal “a mind that sadly is closed in some instances.”

Much of the Democratic questioning yesterday suggested that Judge Alito was unwilling to give the “little guy” a fair shake in the courtroom.

“I find this as a recurring pattern,” Mr. Durbin said. “It raises the question in my mind whether the average person, the dispossessed person, the poor person who finally has their day in court are going to be subject to the crushing hand of fate when it comes to your decisions.”

Judge Alito, who was an earnest student throughout school, disagreed and discussed one case in which he ruled against schoolyard bullies.

“This was a case in which a high school student had been bullied unmercifully by other students in his school because of their perception of his sexual orientation,” the judge told senators. “He’d been bullied to the point of attempting to commit suicide.”

After the school board tried blocking the parents’ attempts to move him to a different public school, Judge Alito sided with the family.

But Mr. Kennedy led the inquisition on the Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

In a 1985 job application for a position in the Reagan administration, Judge Alito noted his membership in the group, which published a magazine, and was founded by alumni upset that the previously all-male university had admitted women.

Judge Alito’s “affiliation with an organization that fought the admission of women into Princeton calls into question his appreciation for the need for full equality in this country,” Mr. Kennedy said in a statement he distributed with copies of articles from the group’s publication.

“People nowadays just don’t seem to know their place,” author H.W. Crocker III wrote in a 1983 issue of the magazine. “Everywhere one turns blacks and hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they’re black and hispanic, the physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports, and homosexuals are demanding that government vouchsafe them the right to bear children.”

Judge Alito rebuked the sentiments and said he had no recollection of the group. He said that he must have joined because he was in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and the group also opposed the expulsion of Princeton’s ROTC program from campus during the anti-war years of the 1960s and 1970s.

Conservative activists, meanwhile, were eager to point out that Mr. Kennedy was on shaky ground accusing the nominee of associating with people opposed to the inclusion of women in private institutions.

The eight-term senator belonged to an all-male social club — the Owl — at Harvard University. The Owl refused to admit women until it was forced to do so during the 1980s, according to records kept by the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.

A Kennedy spokeswoman said it was an entirely different matter.

“No one can question Senator Kennedy’s commitment to equality, justice and civil rights,” said Laura Capps. “What he was part of was a social club, not a radical group pushing a radical agenda.”

Anyway, she said, even though women were admitted to the university during Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, they weren’t fully integrated to the campus until much later.

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