Court Doesn't Need Scalia Clone

If the Senate approves the nomination of Samuel Alito to be a Supreme Court justice, another black-robed clone of Justice Antonin Scalia will be seated on the high bench.

With Justice Clarence Thomas in his hip pocket, Scalia in effect has two votes on the nine-member high court.

That would grow to three votes if the controversial nomination of Alito, a federal appeals court judge, is approved by the Senate.

Alito's background has been thoroughly vetted. His previous judicial decisions and writings bear the imprint of a rock-ribbed conservative, a dream come true for the right wing of the Republican Party. He is apparently scandal free but none of his Italian immigrant heritage seems to have translated into compassion for ordinary people.

Harriet Miers, the hapless White House counsel, was first named to the post but the howls of ultra-conservative pundits and others forced her to withdraw.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings Jan. 9 on the Alito nomination, said in an interview in the Dec. 10 National Journal that Miers "was run out of town, damn near on a rail. She wasn't treated right."

Civil rights and other liberal groups are up in arms against Alito because of his narrow reading of the law and apparent judicial rigidity.

The most vocal protesters are those who fear that Alito may try to overturn the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. He has said he opposes that decision.

His opponents focus on other grounds, as well.

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, noted that when he was applying for a Justice Department post, "Judge Alito cited his work in the Reagan administration to advance restrictive positions on civil rights."

"He also questioned the enforcement of constitutional rights for those convicted of criminality and the democratic principle of one person, one vote."

Alito has a reputation for being a frequent dissenter on the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. One of his most notorious dissents involved the strip search of a drug suspect's wife and 10-year-old daughter in their home in a small Pennsylvania coal town.

The police sent for a female meter maid who took the mother and daughter to an upstairs bathroom where they were stripped and searched. She then directed them downstairs where they sat on a couch. Police found some marijuana and traces of methamphetamine in the house but no drugs were discovered on the wife and daughter.

Alito found it acceptable to search family members even if they were not specifically named in the warrant. But he was in the 2-to-1 minority in the March 2004 ruling written by Michael Chertoff, now secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

"I share the majority's visceral dislike of the intrusive search of John Doe's young daughter," Alito wrote, "but it is a sad fact that drug dealers sometimes use children to carry out their business and avoid prosecution."

In the majority opinion, Chertoff said the police had gone beyond the terms of the search warrant and were liable for potential damages.

Documents recently released from Alito's service in President Reagan's Justice Department show he leans heavily toward presidential power over the other branches of government.

With the vulnerable Bush administration under a cloud for wiretapping U.S. citizens and other questionable practices in the name of national security, Alito's views are just the kind of backing the president is seeking.

It's up to the Supreme Court to restrain an administration that flouts the law. If the government becomes a law-breaker -- as Justice Louis Brandeis once said -- "it breeds contempt for the law."

The country does not need a Scalia-dominated conservative court that believes in giving a free hand to a president who already has grabbed too much power.

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