Bob Fertik of Democrats.com is looking for the best name for Sam Alito — Big Brother Sam? Slippery Sam? Strip-Search Sam?
Maureen Dowd has another one:
You don’t have to know the difference between horizontal and vertical stare decisis, or between emanations and penumbras, to see that the man who could take Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat and yank back women’s rights was, in a word, shifty.
Shifty Sam. Not bad.
Of yesterday’s hearings, Mo wrote, “It was a tale of two Sams.”
Is he the old Sam, who devised ways to upend Roe v. Wade and crimp abortion rights? Or the new Sam, who has great respect for precedent and an “open mind” about abortion cases?
Is he the old Sam, who plotted ways to tip the balance of power to the executive branch? Or the new Sam, who states that “no person in this country is above the law, and that includes the president”?
Is he the old Sam, who said Robert Bork â€œwas one of the most outstanding nominees of this centuryâ€ and â€œa man of unequaled abilityâ€? Or the new Sam, who shrugged off that statement as the dutiful support of one Reagan appointee for another?
Is he the old Sam, who cited membership in a Princeton alumni club that resisted the admission of women and minorities when he was seeking a promotion in the very white Reagan old boysâ€™ club? Or the new Sam, who has â€œno specific recollection of that organization,â€ unless, of course, he innocently joined it to support R.O.T.C. on campus, and who says heâ€™s been shaped partly by his hopes for his 17-year-old daughter, Laura, and by his sisterâ€™s experiences â€œas a trial lawyer in a profession that has traditionally been dominated by menâ€?
Is he the old Sam, who thoughtlessly blew off a pledge to recuse himself from cases involving Vanguard, where he has a six-figure mutual fund? Or the new Sam, who admits that the problem was not â€œa computer glitch,â€ as he had suggested, and humbly says, â€œIf I had to do it over again, there are things that I would have done differentlyâ€?
Sadly, Mo provides better coverage of the hearings than the New York Times reporters assigned to it. This morning on the Times‘s web site you can find a story by David Stout titled, “Democratic Senators Are More Aggressive at Alito Hearings.” The story itself seems utterly disconnected from the headline, however. There’s barely anything about Democratic questioning in it. You have to read nearly to the bottom to learn that Senator Durbin is “troubled” by 1985 memo disagreeing with Roe v. Wade. Weird.
Edwin Chen and Maura Reynolds provide a little more detail at the Los Angeles Times:
As the committee resumed its confirmation hearings, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told Alito that some Democrats on the panel were “troubled by what they see as inconsistencies” in some of his answers on Tuesday, and Leahy said they intended to press him on those issues.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the day’s first Democratic questioner, challenged Alito’s statement on Tuesday that, if confirmed, he would keep an open mind when abortion cases that come to the court, saying that Alito’s writings and testimony suggested “a mind that sadly is closed in some instances.”
Maybe you had to be there.
In a reflection of either overconfidence or a shrewd recognition of his limitations as a public figure, Alito spent the long day refraining from any attempt to make himself charming, colorful or even interesting. Gone was the man-of-the-people number from Alito’s opening statement Monday, which stressed his blue-collar New Jersey roots. In its place was Alito as the Law Student from Hell, the geek who memorized every bit of case law in the library without developing a single opinion that would make him an intriguing dinner-party companion.
Yet there is more going on beneath the soporific surface:
But when Arlen Specter, the GOP committee chairman who favors abortion rights, raced down this time-worn path with the hearing’s open bell, the nominee did not do much to be reassuring. Alito pledged his troth to stare decisis, but then immediately hedged: “It’s not an inexorable command, but it is a general presumption that courts are going to follow prior precedents.” The word “inexorable” is the one pregnant with the hidden meaning. As Ryan Lizza recently pointed out in the New Republic, Justice Louis Brandeis declared in 1935 that precedent (OK, he used that pesky two-word Latin phrase) “is not a universal, inexorable command.” Getting back to abortion, Chief Justice William Rehnquist quoted Brandeis in his 1992 dissent in the Casey case, the decision that affirmed Roe v. Wade. So when Alito said “inexorable,” he was seemingly signaling that he agreed with Rehnquist that Roe should be overturned.
Most of all, the MSM agrees, the hearings are boring. Dan Abrams went on and on about boring last night on MSNBC. And Dana Milbank writes at WaPo:
Alito’s hard line had the potential to inflame committee Democrats. But something — perhaps Alito’s low monotone, perhaps his fixed stare — had a soporific effect on the senators. For all the expectations of fireworks on the first day of questioning of Alito, and for all the purported high stakes in the nomination, the mood in the hearing room was flat and lethargic. A contagious wave of yawns spread across the dais, from Specter to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), and crested in a brief catnap for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). By midafternoon, only 28 of the 130 seats in the press section were occupied, and not all of those seated had their eyes open.
Question: Is this deliberate? Is boring the effect the Republicans are going for? (How extreme can Alito be, if he’s boring? How can anyone that mundane be dangerous?)
The word for today, boys and girls, is stealthy: “Marked by or acting with quiet, caution, and secrecy intended to avoid notice.” Yeah, ol’ Sam is a real cautious guy. He and his “open mind” are tip-toeing right past the snoozers.
I am not encouraged. I haven’t watched the hearings first-hand, but the real fight isn’t in the Senate. It’s in the media. And our side is losing. Alito, a mild-mannered dweeb, carefully says what everyone wants to hear, and carefully avoids being pinned down on anything substantive. Journalists dutifully report on the packaging but aren’t looking real hard at the product.
This is the way America ends: not with a bang but a snore.