Opposition to the Confirmation of Samuel Alito

Media 01.6.06

Recipient: Sen. Specter and Sen. Leahy

The Honorable Arlen Specter, Chairman
The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy, Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Specter and Ranking Member Leahy:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we write to express our opposition to the confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence over the past 50 years has often served to protect the fundamental constitutional rights of all Americans. Judge Alito’s decisions, however, often stand in direct contrast to that jurisprudence and embrace a much more limited and narrow view of constitutional rights and civil rights guarantees. A careful examination of Judge Alito’s record reveals a history of troubling decisions in the areas of civil rights, civil liberties, and fundamental freedoms, decisions that undermine the power of the Constitution and of Congress to protect the civil and human rights of all Americans. LCCR believes that Judge Alito’s record does not demonstrate an adequate commitment to protecting fundamental rights and, therefore, urges the Senate to reject his nomination.

The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of our laws, and its rulings can drastically impact the lives, liberties, and rights of all Americans. As such, LCCR believes that no individual should be confirmed to the Supreme Court unless he or she has clearly shown a strong commitment to the protection of civil rights and liberties, human rights, privacy, and religious freedom. The evidence reviewed to date shows that Judge Alito’s record in these areas is highly troubling. His overall record reveals a jurist whose views are clearly to the right of where most Americans stand on a number of issues, including the reach of civil rights laws, the constitutional safeguards afforded those within our criminal justice system, and the power of Congress to protect Americans in the workplace and elsewhere.

In addition, LCCR is very troubled by the statements Judge Alito made in his 1985 application to be the Reagan administration’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel. In particular, Judge Alito cited his disagreement with key rulings by the Supreme Court on legislative reapportionment, criminal justice and religious liberties, and added that he was “particularly proud” of his work to restrict affirmative action and limit remedies in racial discrimination cases. Although he now claims that these were just mere words on an application, his record as a jurist reveals something different. The ideological views taken in the application and during his time in the Reagan administration are exemplified throughout his judicial decision making, where he routinely favors a reading of statutory and constitutional law that limits the rights of individuals and the power of Congress to protect those individuals. The following is a summary of the reasons for LCCR’s opposition:

Judge Alito’s “Disagreement” with Supreme Court Rulings on Reapportionment
In an essay attached to a 1985 application for a position within the Department of Justice, Judge Alito wrote that he had been motivated by his opposition to, among other things, the Warren Court’s rulings on legislative reapportionment. Because those rulings first articulated the fundamental civil rights principle of “one person, one vote,” and paved the way for major strides in the effort to secure equal voting rights for all Americans, his stated opposition to them is extremely troubling. It is vital to understand the context in which these cases were decided.

Prior to the 1960s, as urban areas throughout the country experienced rapid population growth, many state and federal legislative districts were not redrawn, often leaving rural voters with far more representation per capita – and thus far more political power – than urban residents. In Florida, for example, just 12 percent of the population could elect a majority of the state senate. While unequal districts affected all voters, their impact was especially harsh in the South, where, along with discriminatory requirements like poll taxes and literacy tests, malapportionment virtually guaranteed the exclusion of racial minorities from the democratic process. Until 1962, the federal courts generally refused to intervene, dismissing such matters as “political questions.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Baker v. Carr broke new ground when the Court declared, for the first time, that the federal courts had a role to play in making sure that all Americans have a constitutional right to equal representation. In Wesberry v. Sanders, the Court examined Congressional districts in the State of Georgia, which had drawn its legislative map so that 823,680 people in the Atlanta are were all represented by one Congressman, while a rural Congressman represented only 272,154 people. The Court held that these disparities violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and ordered that the districts be redrawn more evenly. In Reynolds v. Sims, the Court applied the principle of “one person, one vote” to state legislatures, which, in many cases, had even more drastic malapportionment than Congressional districts. For example, the Reynolds case itself challenged Alabama’s legislative districts, in which one county with more than 600,000 people had only one senator, while another county with only 15,417 people also had its own senator.

In articulating the concept of “one person, one vote,” the so-called “Reapportionment Revolution” cases equalized political power between urban and rural voters, and ensured that every citizen would have an equal voice in the legislative process. Along with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its subsequent amendments, the decisions also paved the way to far greater representation of racial and ethnic minorities, at both the state and federal levels of government. They also helped open the door for legal challenges to the “at-large” and “multi-member” districts that many Southern states established in an effort to circumvent the Baker rulings and continue excluding African-American voters from the political process.

The Warren Court decisions that established the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote” were a catalyst for tremendous progress in our nation’s efforts to secure equal voting rights for all Americans, and quickly became so accepted as a matter of constitutional law that they could fairly be described as “superprecedent.” Yet two decades later, long after most of the nation had come to embrace this progress, Judge Alito still boasted of his opposition to it. The fact that he would use his opposition as a “selling tactic” for a job in 1985 is disconcerting, and raises suspicions about his overall legal philosophy that deserve extensive scrutiny.

Judge Alito’s Narrow Reading of Anti-Discrimination and Other Worker Protection Laws
Judge Alito’s record also raises concerns about whether he would be a strong enforcer of our nation’s civil rights and labor laws. His decisions thus far in such cases show a pattern of narrow interpretations of the laws, placing greater burdens on civil rights plaintiffs to prove discrimination and making it harder for the government to protect workers.

In a number of cases involving race, gender, disability, and age discrimination, Judge Alito was clearly to the right of his colleagues on the Third Circuit. In Bray v. Mariott Hotels, for example, the Third Circuit ruled that an African-American plaintiff who had been denied a promotion had shown that racial discrimination might have been a factor, and that she was therefore entitled to take her case to trial. But Judge Ali