Conservative women's groups react to Alito

Optimistic, satisfied, but still prickly about Miers.

Published October 31, 2005 4:52PM (EST)

One may judge a judge not just by his enemies but by his friends. With that in mind, I made some calls to some of the nation's leading conservative women's groups and bloggers to see what they thought of the new Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito. What I found is that most of them are optimistic about Alito -- but still prickly about Harriet Miers.

On its Web site, Concerned Women for America, a group that was reportedly consulted in the nomination, expresses "its wholehearted support for President Bush's nomination ... Judge Alito is eminently qualified and has a consistent record as a conservative constitutionalist during the past 15 years."

"Judge Alito has always been one of our top choices for the Supreme Court," CWA's chief counsel, Jan LaRue, said in the statement. "He has all of the qualifications needed: intellect, knowledge and experience in constitutional law, integrity, competence, humility and judicial temperament." LaRue also predicted that Alito would "sail through" the nomination process and "help swing the Court back to the Constitution and restore the only balance that matters."

Over at the Independent Women's Forum, visiting fellow Jennifer Braceras told me by phone that "the general mood is that we're pleased. And we are pleased mostly because he is a nominee of the highest caliber." She added, "This is not just about judicial results. This is about judicial process. And the conservative view of the courts as distinguished from conservative political views is that judges are supposed to apply the Constitution and statutes as written, regardless of where political chips may fall. Jurisprudential conservatives accept that and that is what we want. We're concerned with the integrity of the process. I want someone who will act with restraint regardless of their personal politics. And there's every indication that Sam Alito is that type of person."

News that some women's groups are furious about his stand on abortion neither thrills nor dismays Braceras. "The IWF does not take an official position on abortion," she said. "We have members who are pro-life, members who are pro-choice. We do not believe that abortion is the most important issue to most women and are not invested in that issue one way or another, politically or jurisprudentially." Dawn Patrol blogger Dawn Eden wrote via e-mail that she's still reading up on Alito's background and doesn't yet know enough about him to have "a definite opinion." She added, "Planned Parenthood hates him, but of course they hated Miers too -- until she dropped out, when it angrily blamed the 'far right' for torpedoing her chances. Jay Sekulow, whom I admire, supports him -- but then, he gave unqualified support to Miers. What I've heard about Alito on the news broadcasts suggests that no one in the legal field disputes his qualifications, so I need to learn about his judicial philosophy beyond his reported refusal to follow the wishes of abortion-rights supporters."

Lisa De Pasquale, the program director at the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, said that her group did not have any official statement, but that she personally "will be glad to see another Italian on the court. We're taking over!" De Pasquale was, naturally, just kidding. "I think that the president learned from Harriet Miers," she said. "And this nomination begs the question: Is this guy the second choice? Because clearly he's more experienced and qualified than Harriet Miers and it just shows how disappointing the original pick really was." De Pasquale said that like the IWF, the Luce Policy Institute doesn't take an official stance on abortion. "It doesn't really matter if he is pro-choice or if he attends church every Sunday or what church that is," she said. "I was glad the first thing out of the president's mouth wasn't his religious affiliation, as it was with Harriet Miers, and him telling us she was an evangelical Christian. That really doesn't matter."

But that stuff sure seems to matter to Colleen Parro, executive director of the Republican National Coalition for Life, who, when reached by phone, said, "I really don't know that much about [Alito], but just from cursory glance he seems to be a conservative." When asked what kinds of things she'll want to know about Judge Alito, Parro said, "Of course, whether or not he respects innocent human life is the most important issue as far as we're concerned, so we'll be looking at his record from that perspective."

And no conservative women's roundup would be complete without a word from Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum ("leading the pro-family movement since 1972"). Reached by phone, Schlafly said, "We are optimistic. Listening to Bush give his résumé this morning sounded very impressive. We will be reading his record, but we are very optimistic." When asked what she'd be looking for in his record, Schlafly said, "We'll be looking to see if he's been creating new rights, legislating from the bench, whether he's a judicial supremacist, or whether he's a strict constitutionalist and recognizes that judges are subject to the Constitution just like the other branches of government. It's clear Harriet Miers didn't meet any of those tests, so we're very happy that President Bush recognized that Miers was a mistake and has given us, we hope, a very fine judge."

That "creating new rights" thing -- that's about abortion, right? Right. When I told Schlafly that women's reproductive rights groups are concerned, she replied: "Of course they want somebody to pledge that Roe is in the Constitution, and I think Roe is an example of judicial supremacy, the court creating rights that nobody has seen for hundreds of years. And I don't think the nominee should have to tell us his stance on it, but we are certainly entitled to have somebody different from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A lot of liberals have forgotten who won the election in 2004."

Oh no we haven't.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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