James J. Kilpatrick

In the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the president has picked an experienced jurist whom Sen. Ted Kennedy describes as "extreme." That should be enough to assure his confirmation.

The senior senator from Massachusetts is not alone in his opposition. Most of the usual suspects have rattled their cowbells -- People for the American Way, the AFL-CIO, Pro-Choice America, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. With enemies like these, who needs Rush Limbaugh? After the showboating stops, Alito will be comfortably confirmed.

Some conservative court watchers doubtless would have preferred another nominee. I was rooting for either Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson or Judge Mike Luttig from the 4th Circuit. From the 7th Circuit, either Richard Posner or Frank Easterbrook would have gifted the high court with a vigorous writer. Apart from the two Lucrezia Borgias who have been widely mentioned for the high court, other qualified women are serving admirably on lower benches and could have won the presidential nod.

We take what we can get. Judge Alito has been widely described over the past 48 hours as a modest man. As Winston Churchill remarked of Clement Attlee, the judge has much to be modest about. Since he went on the bench 15 years ago, Alito has written 300 substantive majority opinions for the 3rd Circuit and perhaps a fifth as many opinions in dissent. On Monday, reporters hustled busily to find a dozen that merited substantial quotation. Let us be patient.

Most writers have focused upon Judge Alito's dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey , the major abortion case of 1991. Here he argued in favor of a Pennsylvania law that required women to notify their husbands before undergoing an abortion. I felt at the time that women were entitled to more privacy than the judge wanted to accord them -- a position the Supreme Court later upheld.

Evidently, to infer from the press comment so far, Judge Alito's position on abortion will weigh heavily in his Senate hearing. Other cases, both civil and criminal, offer a more balanced review. For example, his opinion for the 3rd Circuit in the criminal case of Ronald Rompilla struck some of us as correctly decided.


James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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