Go, Sam, Go!


WASHINGTON, D.C.–The key issue for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is not whether he gets on the big bench–already viewed by many as a done deal– but whether the Senate confirmation hearings, which start at noon today, can give President Bush and his government a breather from the daily attacks over the Iraq war and the spying on the general citizenry. Can Alito perform well enough under whatever pressure the Senate musters to avoid getting Borked or Miers-ed, and what’s more, can Alito perform well enough to help poor George W. now?

Each day more revelations about Bush regime failings appear. The IRS admits it has been collecting information about the political parties taxpayers belonged to in 20 states. “This agency should not have that type of information,” Washington Democratic senator Patty Murray told the Tacoma News Tribune. “No one should question whether they are being audited because of party affiliation.”

Then, days before the Alito hearings were to begin, news broke that the Department of Homeland Security has been opening the mail. This came to light when a retired Kansas history professor got a letter from a friend in the Philippines which had been opened, then resealed with a strip of tape. On the tape was written “By Border Protection.” It bore the seal of the Department of Homeland Security.

For the Republicans, these are the immediate issues at hand. They have to somehow stop the hemmoraghing and ward off the possibility–admittedly distant–that either Bush or Cheney or both will be forced from office. Although distant, impeachment over the National Security Agency’s wiretap program for domestic spying is a real possibility. “I think there is an orderly and dignified way to find out what happened,” said Wisconsin Democratic senator Russ Feingold, a possible Democratic presidential candidate. “And, if there was a legal violation there needs to be accountability . . . You can’t put the cart before the horse, but I would not rule out any form of accountability.” He told reporters that could include impeachment.

Then, of course, there’s the widening scandal over lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the stepping aside of indicted Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and the shedding of tainted contributions both by the Bush White House and by lawmakers on each side of the aisle.

Into this mess rides Samuel Alito, the one Bush has to bet on now.

As for what to expect out of the Alito hearings, Senator Teddy Kennedy has listed off a few basic points:

  • As an admirer of Goldwater, and acolyte of Ed Meese in the Reagan administration, highly critical of the Warren Court, how does Alito does construe the extent of presidential power?
  • What was Alito doing being a member of the reactionary Princeton alumni group called Concerned Alumni of Princeton? The anti-coeducation group that was so far off the wall even future Republican Senate majority leader and Princeton alumnus Bill Frist said it put forward a “distorted and hostile” view of the university. Alito told the Senate Judiciary Committee, in his written response to their questions, that he doesn’t remember being a part of the Concerned Alumni, even though he listed his membership in it on an application for deputy assistant attorney general in 1985.
  • Why didn’t Alito recuse himself, as he promised, when it came to sitting on cases involving Vanguard mutual funds, in which he had substantial investments?
  • How come, after promising to be “absolutely impartial” as an appellate judge, he ended up siding over and over with the government police and other federal agents against citizens?

Alito has also been taking heat from organized labor–and collecting love from big business, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Manufacturers Association–for a string of anti-worker, pro-employer rulings. The AFL-CIO came out against Alito last month, writing:

“Judge Alito’s record on the U.S. Court of Appeals is peppered with decisions that have shown hostility toward workers’ rights. From denying overtime pay to newspaper reporters (Reich v. Gateway Press) to thwarting Congress’ efforts to guarantee all employees unpaid time off from their jobs for serious illnesses (Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development) and putting roadblocks in the way of workers trying to remedy job discrimination (Bray v. Marriott Hotels and Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours), Alito has consistently sided against working Americans.”

And let’s not forget that Alito has done himself no favors on the abortion issue, with his statements against Roe v. Wade there for all the world to see. “What can be made of this opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime of mitigating its effects?” he wrote about one case, while serving in the Reagan-era Justice Department. Maybe if Alito can dance he way out of that at the Senate hearings, he can show Bush how to trip the light fantastic out of his presidential woes. Don’t bet on it.