06 January 2006

Last thoughts on Judge Alito

With the confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito just around the corner, I thought I’d make a very brief statement about what to expect.

1. It will be ruthless and ugly. Nobody, not Democrats and not Republicans, and not Alito, is going to come out of this thing smelling like roses. Ultimately I expect this process to make everybody look like shit and to piss off and alienate most voters.

2. Expect people on both sides to scream bloody murder about how absolutely atrocious the other side’s behavior has been. Ignore all of this from both sides and you’ll be a happier, better person.

3. Alito is said to be a quiet, pleasant, and generally deferential individual, as one would expect from a nerd (which the judge most certainly is; this is not a bad thing. I and many of my friends are nerds, and we’re very nice people). How this will hold up under what will certainly be a very ugly attempt at character assassination—-to include the calling of character witnesses by the Democrats who will attempt to question the judge’s credibility—-remains to be seen. If he can maintain his demeanor he will probably be confirmed. If he fails to do so he will not be.

If I was a Senator, and I’m not and I think we can all thank our lucky stars for that, I would vote against confirming Judge Alito. Whether I would have done so at his initial hearings years ago for the post he now holds—-and whether any other sitting Senator did so—-is entirely irrelevant. This will not stop the pro-Alito machine from whining about why people changed their minds. People change their minds all the time, in government as much as in life. I didn’t used to like peanut butter, but now I do; that's not a character flaw. And in the 80s when Alito was initially confirmed, his paper trail was shorter and concern about his willingness to expand executive power was nonexistent. Things and people change and so the mere fact that you supported somebody two decades ago has no relevance to how you feel about that person now.

I would vote against Alito because I am concerned that he is too willing to expand executive authority. I have a deep and abiding distrust of any form of executive political power and this president has shown continued attempts to expand that power under the guise of fighting the war on terror. We can debate this topic all you want, but I am far more of a libertarian than a law-and-order guy and for one am unwilling to see continued expansion of presidential powers that erode basic civil liberties—even in wartime. The prez may say he’s simply using his commander-in-chief powers, but please bear in mind that the “War on Terror” is an open-ended war. There is no reason why, once accepted by the courts, any present expansion of presidential authority under the CINC clause need ever be revoked. What we’re seeing here is an attempt by Bush to permanently expand the authority of the executive, thereby permanently degrading civil liberties and preventing us from regaining them. This is how freedom is lost, gradually and almost imperceptibly to the notion of security, and I could not vote to approve a judge who I suspect would be complicit in that expansion. This is, frankly, the only issue that matters in this debate.

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