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.