- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 14, 2006

Barring a last-minute bombshell, Judge Samuel Alito seems a sure bet to win confirmation to the Supreme Court despite the dark warnings of special interests he will help reverse decades of progress on social issues.

Since liberal opponents have found nothing sinister besides their view of his past opinions to disqualify him in nearly two months of probing, no Anita Hill-type surprises seem even remotely likely. In fact, Judge Alito’s personal life is not only exemplary, it seems as bland as his personality.

Here’s a guy who puts on a baseball uniform to coach a Little League team. But then, how many good ol’ boys have occupied a seat on the highest bench?

Is he qualified for this exalted position? Of course he is. And unless he wants to suddenly announce how he would vote on any number of problems that might come before the court, that’s enough to get him the job. That is as it should be, and probably should have been when the good solons of the national legislature turned back the nomination of Robert Bork — whose confirmation battle set the standard for these exercises, and whose crime was to have a record of decisions too much in disagreement with some of the senators’ own views and those of their special-interest constituents.

But Judge Alito is not Judge Bork, who never suffered fools lightly and with whom Judge Alito says he doesn’t always agree. In addition, his less acerbic responses seem easier for Senate Judiciary Committee members to handle.

Judge Alito’s answers have been unusual in that he has not tried to back away from youthful positions on Roe v. Wade and other controversial questions, but has promised his mind is open to new interpretations. He reassured senators that judges shouldn’t carry their personal agendas into decisionmaking.

Mainly, however, he responded as most other nominees since the Senate began taking confirmation seriously decades ago and requiring candidates for the court to appear in these lengthy, often stultifying sessions where senatorial mugging for the television cameras has become as important as interrogating the witness.

It is difficult to understand what is to be gained by this, other than to give individual senators their moment in the TV sun by asking over and again what will be answered only very generally. Yet, in hearing after hearing, this rather absurd dance is repeated for the benefit of a relative few Americans.

The great majority couldn’t care less. Only when Clarence Thomas was confronted with Miss Hill’s allegation of sexual harassment — which he denied — did the public tune in much. It was a disgraceful performance that did great harm to the decorum of the Senate as well as to Justice Thomas personally.

So with no last-minute surprises, Democrats would be foolish to waste time in any concerted effort to block Judge Alito’s nomination, either in committee, where they lack the votes, or in trying to prevent a floor vote by filibuster. It seems a slim chance they could hold the party line against the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster.

Judge Alito would replace the court’s main swing voter, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who, when nominated by President Ronald Reagan, was seen by most liberals as a threat. The same was true of Justice David Souter, nominated by President George H.W. Bush. Justice Souter also has turned out far more moderate than hard-nosed conservatives would like.

On the other hand, liberals rejoiced at the nomination of the late Justice Byron White by President John Kennedy, only to see him become one of the most conservative justices.

All this means the confirmation process is far from a true barometer of anything, least of all an accurate indication of which side a nominee will take on a subject once he or she reaches the court. Once again, that is as it should be.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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