Friday, January 13, 2006

Alito: sins of omission?

Who would you rather have sitting on the Supreme Court:

A. a guy who once belonged to a racist, sexist organization and embraced its mission

B. a guy who once belonged to a racist, sexist organization without knowing its mission

C. a guy who never belonged to a racist, sexist organization but fibbed that he did on a job application because he thought his presumed membership in the racist, sexist organization would please his prospective bosses

D. none of the above

If you chose D, you lose, because it looks like we're about to get either A, B or C--though some mystery exists as to which description best fits the current nominee to the High Court.

As the second day of Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination hearing before the Senate Judiicary Committee drew to a close, it appeared likely that the next justice to take a seat on the Supreme Court will be a man who apparently once belonged to an organization committed to the goal of limiting the participation of women and minorities at one of the nation’s most elite educational institutions. As a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton -- which he professed to be on a 1985 job application -- Alito would have taken part in an organization whose publication, Prospect (absolutely NO relation to the one you are reading), spewed hatred in a haughty tone. According to Chanakya Sethi of The Daily Princetonian, (Princeton University’s campus newspaper), Alito classmate and Prospect editor T. Harding Jones wrote in the magazine's February 1973 issue that the increasing number of women in the Princeton student body showed that "[t]he makeup of the Princeton student body has changed drastically for the worse." Likewise, a 1973 fundraising letter, according to Stephen Dujak in the April 9, 1986 issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly opined on how the admission of women to the student body would "vitiate" the Princeton student body. According to my dicitonary, the word "vitiate" means to "make impure."

For his part, the judge seems to have acquired a case of amnesia about the organization and his professed membership in it. Pressed by Kennedy on why he would join just a group, Alito replied, "I've said what I can say about what I can recall about this group, senator, which is virtually nothing," Alito said. Given his proclivities, it seems unlikely that the good judge was in a position to have forgotten the 1970s for the same reason that many of his generation have. (Can’t imagine him warbling a chorus of "Panama Red.") Yet when he applied, in 1985, for a position in the Reagan Justice Department, he listed his membership in the organization as something of a badge of honor; it appeared in the "Personal Qualifications Statement" that accompanied the application form.

Did he or didn’t he?
Yesterday,'s Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass) frustration over the reluctance of Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) to formally request documents on the Concerned Alumni of Princeton led to a dust-up between the two in one of the hearing's few moments of spontaneous combustion.

Hidden in the stacks of the Library of Congress is a cache of material that is said to shed light on the origins and operations of the Princeton’s Concerned Alumni. The papers at issue belong to William Rusher, long the publisher of National Review (his tenure ran from 1957-1988) and one of the leaders of the now-disbanded Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Through some strange agreement, Rusher maintains control of his papers, even though they are housed at taxpayer expense in the people’s library. Rusher had apparently refused to voluntarily cough up the relevant papers to the Congressional Research Service, which had sought them at Kennedy's request, protesting that they show nothing of any involvement by Alito in the organization. At Kennedy's insistence -- having embarrassed Specter by publicly airing Specter's lack of response to Kennedy's December 22 letter to the chairman on the subject -- Specter made the phone call that scored the cache.

Rusher's contention appears to have been borne out: apparently no trace of Alito exists in those records from the Concerned Alumni that Rusher has stored at the Library of Congress. "Judge Alito's name never appeared in any document," Specter told the Washington Post. "It was not mentioned in any letters to or from the group's founder or executive director, did not appear on any canceled checks for subscriptions, was nowhere to be found on any articles, lists of board members or contributors, and was not in any minutes or attendance records from CAP meetings," the Specter said, according to the Post.

But that says little about Alito's claim to have belonged. Did Rusher's documents contain all of the group's records? If so, the absence of a contribution would suggest that Alito did not belong to the group. More telling would be actual membership rosters for the 13 years of the organization's existence. Because the story shouldn't be allowed to end with, "Yeah, but he really didn't hang out with those guys."

What if he didn’t?
What if Alito is found never to have belonged to the organization? While critics accuse Kennedy of embarking on “a fishing expedition”--and even of McCarthyism--perhaps they fear less what Kennedy might have found in the Rusher stash, but what he wouldn’t. For what is revealed of the Supreme Court nominee if it is found that indeed he never did belong to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton? For one, it would mean that he lied on a job application for a position as assistant attorney general--a guy who prosecutes evildoers.

But that’s not the worst of it: if Alito is shown never to have joined the Concerned Alumni, he'll be shown to have told a boastful lie about belonging to a racist, sexist organization--a heck of thing to bray about. If true, the lie would have been executed in the spirit of expedience; if not an actual racist or sexist himself, he will be shown to have been happy to play the part, based on his assumption that this is what The Man wanted to believe of those he was hiring to mete out justice to the masses.

If Alito is a true believer in the mission of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, that would be bad enough. But if he lied about being a sexist and racist in order to up his chances for getting a job with an administration he obviously believed would appreciate sexist and racist bona fides, well, that’s just ruthless and morally bankrupt.

Whatever the outcome of Kennedy’s inquiry, Alito’s behavior with regard to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton should disqualify from a seat on the bench of the nation’s highest court.

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