Alito goes Clintonian on Roe

Asked whether the abortion ruling is "settled law," Alito says it depends on what the meaning of "settled" is.

Published January 11, 2006 4:09PM (EST)

As the third day of Samuel Alito's confirmation hearing began this morning, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin asked the nominee if he considers Roe v. Wade to be "settled law." As he has on so many other things, Alito responded to the question without really answering it.

"If 'settled' means it can't be reexamined, that's one thing," Alito said. "If 'settled' means it is a precedent entitled to respect as stare decisis. . . then it is a precedent that is protected, entitled to respect under the doctrine of stare decisis in that way."

The structure of Alito's equivocation rang a bell with us, as it should have with Republicans who were once up in arms over a similar statement made by someone else. During Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony in 1998, the president said, famously and not unreasonably, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." Then he added: "If 'is' means is and never has been, that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement."

That wasn't good enough for Republicans who pushed for Clinton's impeachment. Why should Alito's equivocation on Roe be good enough now?

By Tim Grieve

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

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