November 9, 2005

November 9, 2005 | Commentary on Legal Issues

Verdict's In On Alito

The second time's a charm.

On Oct. 31, President Bush nominated Judge Samuel Alito to fill the Supreme Court seat that will be vacated by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Alito is an excellent choice, because of what he'll likely do on the court -- and what he likely won't do.

Alito is a known quantity, with 15 years experience as a judge on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. And he has a breadth of other experience that makes him impeccably well qualified for the Supreme Court; indeed, he has more federal judicial experience than 105 of the 109 Supreme Court justices had when they were appointed.

But the most important thing to know about the soft-spoken judge from New Jersey is that he understands the proper role of a judge. His record indicates he won't make law -- he'll interpret the laws as written, rather than how he wants them to be. It's also clear he'll remain faithful to the actual meaning of the Constitution, instead of stretching it to mean whatever he wants it to mean.

How can we know that? Because even those who disagree with Alito politically say that's what he'll do.

Former federal Judge Timothy K. Lewis is a liberal who has worked with Alito on the Third Circuit. He told The Los Angeles Times that Alito "is not result-oriented. He is an honest conservative judge who believes in judicial restraint and judicial deference."

Lewis isn't alone in that view. He also related a conversation he had with Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., a legendary liberal judge in his day. "Sam Alito is my favorite judge to sit with on this court," Higginbotham told Lewis in 1992. "He is a wonderful judge and a terrific human being. Sam Alito is my kind of conservative. He is intellectually honest. He doesn't have an agenda."

Kate Pringle, a former Alito law clerk, told the Times, "He was not, in my personal experience, an ideologue. He pays attention to the facts of cases and applies the law in a careful way. He is conservative in that sense. His opinions don't demonstrate an ideological slant." Pringle has known Alito since 1994. And, by the way, she says she voted for John Kerry last year.

Alito's selection should come as no surprise. He's exactly the sort of person President Bush has long promised he'd nominate. "I'll put competent judges on the bench, people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench for writing social policy," he vowed during a presidential debate with then-Vice President Al Gore on Oct. 3, 2000. "I believe that the judges ought not to take the place of the legislative branch of government, that they're appointed for life and that they ought to look at the Constitution as sacred."

Of course, Alito also has plenty of admirers on the right. Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, now the chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, describes Alito as "a humble man with the highest integrity, an even temperament, and a sound judicial philosophy. In his actions as a lawyer and a judge, he has shown careful and consistent fidelity to the Constitution and laws as written, without injecting bias or personal preferences." Countless other conservatives are supporters as well.

In the years to come, Samuel Alito will participate in hundreds of cases. There will undoubtedly be some in which we disagree with the outcome. But we can be confident that Alito -- like Bush's other recent pick, John Roberts -- will have reached his conclusions through careful study of the law and careful application of the Constitution.

That's why both men were excellent choices -- and why Alito deserves to receive the wide support from both conservatives and liberals enjoyed by now-Chief Justice Roberts.


Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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