Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Stare, Stare Decisis

Dems saved the biggest, loudest fireworks for last during Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings yesterday.

New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer essentially tore Alito a new one.

Schumer wasted no time in going for Alito’s throat on a big-ticket issue. He asked Alito if the opinion he had in 1985 – that the right to have an abortion was not protected by the Constitution – is the same one he holds now.

Schumer asked this question no less than four times, his tone becoming increasingly stern with each, and each time Alito stated that he would have to consider stare (pronounced “starry”) decisis (precedent) if the issue came before him on the Supreme Court.

But that wasn’t the question Schumer was asking.

Schumer simply wanted to know whether Alito’s now opinion is the same as his then opinion. Alito would not answer.

Yet Alito had no problem in answering other questions related to the Constitution.

At one point Schumer criticized Alito for using “inapt” in an earlier answer, stating he knew of no such word. Schumer probably thought Alito meant to say “inept,” when in actuality inapt is a word, with a similar meaning.

When it became apparent Alito would not give any kind of substantive answer, Schumer finally gave in. But not before stating:

“I know you're not going to answer the question. I didn't expect really that you would, although I think it would be important that you would. I think it's part of your obligation to us that you do, particularly that you stated it once before so any idea that you're approaching this totally fresh without any inclination or bias goes by the way side.”

In refusing to answer, Alito is following precedent of another sort – one that’s being practiced daily in our Executive branch: Slinking through controversial issues by giving general answers that speak to the background of the issues but not the meat of them.

During Monday’s opening remarks for the hearings, Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl basically invited Alito to refuse to answer any question.

Alito may not have to answer the questions put to him, but if he is to be confirmed to the highest court in the land for life, he owes us the whole truth.

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