Judge Alito does not appear to be a judicial maverick. In an affirmation of precedent, he voted to strike down New Jersey's ban on partial-birth abortion because of an earlier Supreme Court ruling that a similar Nebraska law was unconstitutional. He emphasized the "responsibility" of judges "to follow and apply controlling Supreme Court precedent."
On religious freedom questions, Judge Alito's rulings appear to side with conservatives who favor free religious expression in public places, rather than with liberals who mostly favor a public square devoid of religious speech.
In 1990, the Senate Democrat majority unanimously approved his nomination by President George H.W. Bush to the federal Court of Appeals. He won plaudits from several liberal senators, including Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who said Alito is "the kind of judge the public deserves - one who is impartial, thoughtful and fair." Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey backed Alito "100 percent" and said he would "make a contribution that will stand the test of time."
Even Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts liked Alito, saying he has a "distinguished record . (w)e look forward to supporting you." Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Alito's 1990 nomination to the Appeals Court deserved "clear sailing."
Having enthusiastically backed Judge Alito then, it will be difficult for liberal Democrats to claim he is unqualified for the Supreme Court now. But they will try with their usual claims that someone who might overturn what previous activist judges have imposed on the country is "out of the mainstream."
Conservatives have been itching for an ideological battle over the Constitution and the direction of the Court. Depending on the level of liberal opposition, they may get one. If Judge Alito turns out the way his record and judicial philosophy indicate he might, conservatives could be thanking President Bush for decades to come.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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