Samuel Alito: The reaction from the left

Harry Reid is looking forward to meeting Alito -- if only to find out why the right is so excited.

Published October 31, 2005 4:02PM (EST)

George W. Bush wasted no time in naming a replacement for Harriet Miers, and his nominee isn't wasting any time in making the rounds of the United States Senate. Samuel Alito joined Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist this morning in the Capitol Rotunda, where he paid his respects to the late Rosa Parks, and just sat down for a before-the-cameras event with the Senate Republican leadership.

With Alito at his side, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter brushed away a question about early opposition to the nominee by saying, "Well, this is Washington, D.C." And Frist -- the man who had no trouble telling the White House it was time to yank Harriet Miers' nomination when it was his base that was upset -- said that the Senate has an obligation to "rise above" the political "positioning" on Supreme Court nominees and fulfill its constitutional obligation of "advise and consent and confirmation."

As for Democrats and progressives, the reaction is exactly what you'd expect it to be to a nominee whose views on abortion rights, on race, on the rights of criminal defendants and other issues put him far to the right of the justice he would replace.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid: "I am disappointed in this choice for several reasons. First, unlike previous nominations, this one was not the product of consultation with Senate Democrats. . . . Second, this appointment ignores the value of diverse backgrounds and perspectives on the Supreme Court. The president has chosen a man to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, one of only two women on the court. For the third time, he has declined to make history by nominating the first Hispanic to the Court. And he has chosen yet another federal appellate judge to join a court that already has eight justices with that narrow background. President Bush would leave the Supreme Court looking less like America and more like an old boys club."

Sen. Chuck Schumer: "This controversial nominee, who would make the court less diverse and far more conservative, will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and from the American people."

Sen. Ted Kennedy: "President Bush has picked a nominee whom he hopes will stop the massive hemorrhaging of support on his right wing. This is a nomination based on weakness, not on strength."

Sen. John Kerry: "Has the right wing now forced a weakened president to nominate a divisive justice in the mold of Antonin Scalia? With civil rights, privacy rights, and mainstream American values hanging in the balance, the presidents sagging political position in his own party is no excuse to reopen wounds in America which a president should seek to repair."

People for the American Way President Ralph Neas: "We had hoped President Bush would nominate someone with a commitment to protecting Americans' rights and freedoms. Thats what the American people want, and it's what they deserve. Unfortunately, with Judge Alito, that's not what President Bush has given us. He has chosen to divide Americans with a nominee guaranteed to cause a bitter fight."

National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Eric Stern: "President Bush has nominated a socially conservative judicial activist to appease the socially conservative political activists who control the Republican Party and this White House. Every Supreme Court nominee deserves a fair and thorough investigation into their judicial record. While judgments on this nomination should not be rushed, the giddy salivation of anti-gay activists over their preferred nominee should disturb fair-minded Americans."

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan: "Instead of unifying the country, President Bush has chosen the path of confrontation. Sandra Day OConnor has been the courts swing Justice, casting the deciding votes over the years to protect womens reproductive freedom. Alitos confirmation could shift the court in a direction that threatens to eviscerate the core protections for womens freedom guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, or overturn the landmark decision altogether."

While NARAL has already announced its opposition to Alito's nomination, Democrats have generally stopped just short of saying they'll vote against him. But with the notable exception of Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- who said she hoped "both sides would hold their fire" on Alito -- Democrats are making it clear that there is a very fine line between criticizing Alito's nomination and voting against it. Harry Reid said this morning that he's looking forward to meeting Alito -- but only, it seems, to learn "why those who want to pack the court with judicial activists are so much more enthusiastic about him than they were about Harriet Miers."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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