Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Just Alito bit scary...

Okay. I've done some reading, checked out both liberal and conservative opinions on the guy, and have come to the (tentative) conclusion that Alito is pretty dangerous, but not quite the spawn of Satan that a lot of lefties are making him out to be. I'm willing to go with "minor-level demon," but not all the way to the Devil's golden boy.

The way I see it, it shakes down like this: Alito's got some frighteningly conservative views that are dangerous because, if confirmed, he will represent 11% of the Supreme Court. He's just one guy, but his opinions have more impact in a group of nine than they do among the whole country, or even among the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, where he's currently appointed. The 3rd Circuit Court has 14 seats (though only 11 of them are filled at the moment), and it's known for being rather on the liberal side, so Alito's conservatism doesn't carry an undue amount of weight there. On the SCOTUS, however, his vote packs a bit more of a punch, so to speak. I'll illustrate (and feel free to correct me if I've got my facts wrong here).

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1991), the 3rd Circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring married women to notify their husbands before obtaining an abortion. Alito submitted the only dissenting opinion on that ruling, claiming basically that husbands have a right to know if their wives are considering an abortion. And sure, in a healthy and loving relationship, you would think a woman wouldn't make that decision without talking it over with her husband, whom she loves and respects as a partner in the relationship. The reason Alito gives for his dissent is that "some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems - such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition." So in Alito's world, hubby says, "Gee, I don't think we should have kids before I get that new job," wifey gets knocked up the next week, decides to get an abortion, tells hubby about it after the fact, who then says, "Oh no! We could have made it work! Why didn't you tell me?" All right, well that's an unfortunate misunderstanding, but since when do we make laws designed to prevent misunderstandings?

So the Pennsylvania law, in Alito's opinion, was a valid one to have because of situations like the one above. The problem is that situations like that one are extremely rare. In fact, 95% of married women seeking abortions do notify their husbands. (That post I linked there is a good one; read it.) Of the other 5%, most (if not all) cases involve a relationship that is abusive. So in effect, the law required some women to put themselves in dangerous situations with their abusive husbands. Wow, sounds like awesome legislation to me. Sarcasm aside, Alito thought the notification requirement was a good thing, which is why he submitted his dissenting opinion when the 3rd Circuit Court ruled to strike the law down. Fortunately, he submitted the only dissenting opinion, and the rest of the court agreed the law was bogus.

Here's where things start getting scary (and where I'm not sure I'm 100% correct in my understanding of the facts). The Supreme Court later ruled to uphold the 3rd Circuit Court's ruling. But where the 3rd Circuit ruled 13-1 or whatever, the Supreme Court only upheld that ruling in a 5-4 vote. Four of the justices on the SCOTUS thought the Pennsylvania law should not be struck down. Of the other five, one of those justices was Sandra Day O'Connor, whose seat Alito will be taking over. Had he been sitting on the SCOTUS at the time of that ruling, the vote would have been 5-4 in the other direction. The 3rd Circuit's ruling would have been overturned by the SCOTUS, and the Pennsylvania law would still be on the books. Not so good.

By all accounts, Alito is a really smart guy. (Apparently also a really nice guy, as well as a really quiet one, which they seem to keep repeating on NPR.) I'm all for smart people on the Supreme Court. Harriet Miers was a horrible choice because of her apparent complete ineptitude even with speaking and writing professionally ("Oh Mr. President, you are just the coolest ever!"). But, as Tom said last night, Justice Scalia is also wicked smart; too bad he's evil. I worry about Alito turning out to be the same way. His dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey definitely gives me cause for such worry, but I'm hesitant to form a complete opinion on the man's qualifications based on one piece of evidence that he's a complete wacko nutjob (who's a misogynist, to boot). I mean, he did concur with a later ruling that a New Jersey law banning partial-birth abortion was unconstitutional, so there's that. I guess I don't want to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, so to speak. I'm willing to wait and see what comes out in his confirmation hearing, but I won't exactly be waiting with a lot of optimism.


Momentary Academic said...

Excellent title. I'm sure that this is bad as well.

Tom said...

(Apparently also a really nice guy, as well as a really quiet one, which they seem to keep repeating on NPR.)

And we all know about the quiet ones... they end up eating neighborhood children.

neil5280 said...

I would tend to lean the other way on those issues.

A woman shouldn't be forced to tell anyone she is getting an abortion. Obviously, I would be heart broken to find out my wife or girlfriend or sig other decided to, but that's another good reason to not go having sex with people whom you haven't discussed the issue with and come to an agreement on. If you're not ready to have that talk, you're not ready to be having sex IMO.

However, how is partial-birth abortion constitutional? Our constitution guarantees the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How a fetus wouldn't be protected by that is beyond me.

I do believe that abortion should be legal. It is better to protect one life by providing a safe and caring environment for that procedure, than to not protect any life by forcing it to happen in an alley.

A society that blindly accepts abortion does not promote a world that values life. Each decision to have an abortion is a decision to end life. That decision should be weighed on the concious of the medical community and an informed potential mother. Legislating which situations are right and which ones are wrong ignores the complexity of each circumstance, removes a great deal of reflection from the decision, and marginalizes the importance of the child. It's much easier to say your decision was right by saying either, "It's legal" or "It's not illegal" than to be forced to examine the ramifications of your choice.

I don't worry about Supreme Court nominations, because when it comes down to it, they have to uphold the constitution, and that document's foundations are solid. There are self evident truths in this world. It's a document that when queried will always promote more freedom, more liberty, and more equality. It may take more time than I want for the truth to bubble up from those words, but I have faith in its distilling powers.

susan said...

I think it's naive to be unconcerned about who's on the Supreme Court. The job of the SC justices is to interpret the Constitution and decide whether or not existing laws are unconstitutional. The fact that 4 of the 9 justices thought the Pennsylvania law I talked about was fine as written should be evidence enough that there is no one way to interpret the intention of the Constitution. Should the issue of Roe v. Wade's constitutionality be brought before the SC with Alito aboard, it is entirely possible that a woman's right to choose legal and safe abortion could be abolished. How does that promote more freedom, more liberty, more equality?

Ultimately, I think overturning Roe v. Wade amounts to legislating morality, which no government should ever do. However you feel about abortion itself, the option has to be available.