Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Alito, Conservative? Where Did You Get That Idea?

As the weird ritual of Supreme Court nominee hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee proceeds, I'm struck by how much of Samuel Alito's time and energy is being devoted to proving that he is a liberal, or at least not terribly conservative. We've heard him protest that he would respect the precedential power of Roe rather than seek ways of overturning it, we've heard him disavow with horror the Concerned Alumni of Princeton's revulsion against women students and affirmative action, we've heard him rapidly backpedaling from the theory of the "unitary executive" and his expressed doubts about the doctrine of one man/one vote, and we've heard his Republican Senate supporters reading a litany of cases in which Alito ruled in favor of minority group members claiming discrimination.

Obviously we know better than to take these protestations of Alito's moderation at face value. If conservatives really believed that Alito was a staunch supporter of the rights of women, minority groups, immigrants, and the poor, they wouldn't be lining up to vote for him. But in a funny way this odd, dissembling dance is a tribute to the appeal of liberalism. After all, if the Republicans really believed what they claim to believe--that their anti-choice, anti-diversity, pro-corporate agenda represents the values of most Americans--wouldn't they be proudly proclaiming it from the rooftops?

But when the TV cameras are turned on, they suddenly shift leftward, if only rhetorically. Knowing that the doctrines of the hard right won't fly in most of the country--including vast swaths of the red states--they are busily dressing Alito up in his sheep's clothing.

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