Just days after Washington wrapped up hearings on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, the confirmation fight has ushered in another bitter round of a familiar debate: the constitutionality of abortion rights.
Alito has received special scrutiny from within the student body and the greater Chicago community because he seeks to replace moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who many consider to be the swing vote on a sharply divided Supreme Court. Many Democrats and liberal groups worry that Alito’s conservative vote will allow the Court to chip away at abortion rights and civil liberties.
Despite the controversy, College Republicans President Ben Snyder said Alito’s confirmation is a lock.
“He’ll be confirmed,” said Snyder, a Weinberg senior. “He’s conservative, but he’s one of the most experienced judges to come before the Senate in years. A lot of people just criticize this guy blindly because he’s different.”
Liberal groups both on- and off-campus fear Alito’s confirmation would represent a step backward for women’s rights. Planned Parenthood of Chicago, which officially opposed the Alito nomination, issued a written statement calling Alito’s record on abortion “unacceptable.”
“A vote for Alito is a vote to dismantle Roe v. Wade,” said Steve Trombley, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area, referring to the 1973 decision that struck down state laws prohibiting abortion. “If Samuel Alito is confirmed, the Supreme Court will undergo a radical shift, creating a direct threat to the health and safety of American women.”
Liberal interest-groups’ fears that Alito will roll back abortion laws are “wholly unjustified,” according to Stephen Presser, a Northwestern law professor.
“I think there’s no practical reason to think he’ll want to overrule Roe v. Wade,” Presser said. “And there’s still five votes (on the Supreme Court) to uphold Roe, so it’s difficult to say if he’ll have any impact at all on abortion.”
Not all students are convinced. Rupal Vora, president of College Feminists, said she’s concerned Alito’s “anti-choice record” suggests he would try to chip away at women’s rights.
“His record when it comes to publicly speaking and his history in court cases indicate that he’s not going to uphold women’s rights,” Vora said.
Vora, a Weinberg senior, referred to Alito’s dissent in the famous 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey in which he voted to uphold a Connecticut law requiring spousal notification before an abortion. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the provision, which Justice O’Connor called an “undue burden” on women.
Presser said the anxiety over the Casey case is undeserved, and Alito is not as far-right as his critics fear.
“It’s important to remember that the Supreme Court agreed with Alito’s dissent in three out the four Planned Parenthood cases,” he said. “Only on spousal notification did O’Connor’s vote take the Court in a different direction.”
With both Democrats and Republicans in Washington buzzing that Alito’s confirmation is all but assured, Snyder added that President George W. Bush has an obligation to nominate conservative judges.
“If the Democrats didn’t want Alito nominated,” he said, “they should have won the last election.”