- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 14, 2006


Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. is poised to join a tradition of pragmatic justices who have moved the Supreme Court to the right in measured steps.

Eighteen hours of questions over four days showed President Bush’s nominee to be a judge respectful of legal precedent but hardly starry-eyed. Judge Alito also displayed a strong inclination toward executive authority, a trait not surprising for a lifetime government employee and former Reagan Justice Department lawyer.

By the design of Bush administration officials and despite Democratic efforts to smoke him out, almost nothing was learned in Senate confirmation hearings about Judge Alito’s views on transcendent issues likely to come before the court, such as abortion.

Instead, legal experts say, the hearings may have provided more understanding of Judge Alito’s influence on the court’s changing dynamics when he replaces retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the decisive vote on abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.

For example, while Judge Alito will fit comfortably in the conservative camp of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, legal experts see him as being closer to Justice Scalia than Justice Thomas in his incremental approach to overturning what the court has done before.

“Alito’s not going to be a radical,” said Christopher Wolfe, a political science professor at Marquette University.

Mr. Bush, in his weekly radio address, said Judge Alito was “a man of character and intelligence” whose long legal career shows he is highly qualified for the court.

The president also called for a prompt Senate vote.

Some experts cast Judge Alito, a federal appeals court judge, in the tradition of the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist — a man so like-minded in some respects that he cited Judge Alito’s reasoning in 1992 in a major abortion case.

Senators were unable to elicit much new information, even though Judge Alito had a long paper trail from the appellate court.

“Perhaps the greatest part of the preparation was just making sure he had refreshed his memory in terms of what he had written over the years,” said Fred McClure, who helped prepare Justices Scalia, Thomas and David H. Souter for their confirmation hearings.

Senators pressed Judge Alito on executive power, particularly in light of the revelation that Mr. Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans as part of the fight against terrorism. The nominee spoke of constitutional authority and congressional prerogatives, but he gave no hints of how he might rule.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law, said, “Part of the point is to say as little as you can.”

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