Of Connecticut’s two Democrat senators, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd was first out of the gate in announcing he intended to vote against confirming Sam Alito as a Supreme Court justice. U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, under fire from liberals in his party for having cravenly supported President George Bush’s Iraq policy, played his cards close to the vest prior to a vote in the senate.
In detailing his reasons for voting against Alito, Dodd said the judge failed to show that he will be “independent, will respect the settled law of the land, and will be committed to the core principle of our law: equal justice for all.” Alito’s judicial philosophy, Dodd said, was “outside the mainstream" and "has caused him to support dramatic new powers for the government and fewer rights for ordinary citizens." Dodd feared that "the president would act with radical new powers - unchecked by either the Congress or the courts as envisioned by the framers of our Constitution," should Alito be seated on the court.
Respecting the “settled law of the land” is shorthand among Democrats for supporting and upholding Supreme Court decisions on abortion that, a little more than three decades ago, had radically changed the laws of the land. Had the principle of respect for settled law cited by Dodd been operative after the appointment to the court of justices who evidentially did not feel unnerved in upsetting long standing statutory apple carts, Roe v Wade could never have become the law of the land.
It was the U.S. Senate – certainly not the Supreme Court – that supported putative dramatic new powers for the Bush administration, which the president then deployed to make war in Iraq. Senators who have retrospectively regreted their votes augmenting presidential power are now fiercely backpedaling, with little success. The judgments that Alito might make as a Supreme Court Justice to redress what Dodd considers a possible imbalance of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches is a matter that might more aptly be handled by tea leaves readers than senators.
But Dodd at least did not go quite so far as U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy in his soothsaying.
Leaping over 15 years of carefully crafted judicial decisions, Kennedy reached back all the way to Alito’s college years for evidence that the judge who sat before him was bigoted towards minorities. After Kennedy asserted that Alito had not written “one single opinion on the merits in favor of a person of color alleging race discrimination on the job during his years on the bench,” one commentator produced twelve decisions made by Alito that clearly demonstrated an energetic support of minorities.
Another commentator pointed out that Alito’s college indiscretions were no match for the Chappaquiddick Kid. At Harvard, the senator had paid another student to take an exam for him, and he was a card carrying member of the now notorious Owl Club, a social club for Harvard alumni that bans women from membership. The prior discriminatory practices of the members of the Owl Club did not prevent the senator from renewing his membership to the club last September – though he recently quickly withdrew his membership after having been outted by conservatives -- nor did it restrain Kennedy’s righteous indignation.
The senator’s assault proved too much to bear for Alito’s wife, who presumably has a more intimate knowledge than Kennedy concerning her husband’s attitude towards women and retreated from the scene of the assault in tears.
It was partly the gaudy show put on by Judiciary Committee members that spurred Sen. Joe Biden to offer a sensible suggestion: Let’s do away with Judiciary Committee hearings, an embarrassment to everyone but those who are shameless, and allow debates from the senate floor, after which the senators may cast an up or down vote on prospective nominees for the Supreme Court.
Judiciary Committee hearings have now become political gladiatorial contests, replete with maulings by senatorial lions, hacked off limbs, and blood in the dust. The painful display of senatorial egotism typified by Kennedy recalls the pagan rituals described by Sir James George Frazier in The Golden Bough.
“As soon as the god was supposed to have entered the priest,” Frazier wrote, “the latter became violently agitated, and worked himself up to the highest pitch of apparent frenzy, the muscles of the limbs seemed convulsed, the body swelled, the countenance became terrific, the features distorted, and the eyes wild and strained.”
Dodd has not yet joined the priesthood of Democrat partisans, though he has on occasion bent the knee to the senator from Massachusetts. But no one should count Dodd out: The gaudy show on the floor of the senate has yet to unfold.