Some Democrats think they have found Judge Samuel Alito's Achilles' heel. In their opening statements and first day of questioning, Senators Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, and Dick Durbin have tried to portray Alito as a tool of the powerful. They describe him as a man always willing to side with the strong over the weak, the rich against the poor, one who favors whites over blacks and other minorities. They are hoping the theme will resonate in a way that simply attacking him as anti-abortion won't. It is becoming harder and harder to convince most Americans that an absolute right to abortion through nine months of pregnancy is the sine qua non of American freedom, so Democrats are having to expand their line of assault. And they are hoping that the president's less-than-stellar poll numbers and the anticipated Republican fallout from the Jack Abramoff investigation will make it easier for Democrats to sustain a filibuster, which is the only way they can defeat Alito.
The problem is Alito doesn't much resemble the caricature the Democrats have drawn. There is certainly nothing in his background that would make him insensitive, much less hostile, to the interests of ordinary working people. He grew up solidly middle class, but not privileged, the son of a teacher and a civil servant (who happened to be an immigrant). Nor do Alito's opinions suggest any animus to the less powerful or fortunate. His record on employment cases, for example, tracks the facts of the individual cases rather than any ideological agenda. In one case involving a group of Filipino seamen who worked on Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf which were temporarily re-flagged as American vessels during the first Gulf War, Alito was the sole vote on the 3rd Circuit to support the sailors' claim that they were entitled to be paid the minimum wage under U.S. law. In other cases, Alito opposed racial profiling and was sometimes more expansive than his colleagues in his reading of plaintiffs' right to sue for discrimination.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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