A piece missing

[more on this issue here and here above] I have been dipping into the Alito hearings, not following them completely, but enough to form a distinct and I think a fair impression. I read the nominee as a competent, careful, capable legal craftsman, unprejudiced as regards religion or race, and a decent guy. He is greatly favored with petty (not trivial) virtues, such as his personal treatment of colleagues and strong proclivity to neither steal nor lie nor mistreat children (at least children present in person). He is not a lunatic reactionary, not a flamethrowing hater, and though he doesn’t come across as very interesting, I’d be happy to have him living next door. He is really smart in the specific sense of IQ.

I also have a sense of a man with, as my friend Ed Reilly once said of another public figure of our acquaintance, an “unrelenting instinct for the capillary”. He was described by various witnesses, some admiringly, as always deciding cases on the narrowest possible grounds. This is generally a virtue in a judge, but not always and especially not always in a judge of high or highest appellate jurisdiction. Brown v. Board of Education could have been decided like Plessy, or so narrowly as to demand only (say) equal per-pupil spending, but that wouldn’t necessarily have been a better holding. Alito knows the law, but he doesn’t seem to know, or care about, The Law. Every issue in the hearings was immediately reduced by the nominee to a technical question of almost bureaucratic rule manipulation. This approach is a good one for nearly all the cases courts hear, but it’s not what the Supreme Court is about.

He doesn’t have a screw loose; what he has is a piece missing, conspicuously, radiantly, displaying the absence of any sense of, well, justice. Not a case came up for discussion in which he registered that one or another outcome was just wrong, outrageous to a sense of decency, or to him. He’s on record in a memo as believing that to shoot an eighth grader, known not to be armed, who was trying to climb over a fence in escape, is a proper use of deadly force by a policeman. In a discussion of immigration cases that have been regularly occasioning inexcusable, vile, un-American heartbreak on people who missed obscure deadlines or violated arcane requirements, all he could say was that the courts get bad transcripts and it was hard to find translators for some of the plaintiffs, but that was a problem for Congress. It wasn’t exactly Pilate washing his hands, but the man appears to be completely comfortable dealing with frightful social wrongs by moving the issue down the hall to another office. Sometimes the Court has to do this, but to Alito it’s an especially good day’s work, not a disappointment.

A smart, decent, small man. If the US Supreme Court is a good place for a man whose ability to prove “not my job” is unparalleled, Alito should be confirmed. He will focus enormous rational power on issues not central to the cases before him, and solve problems peripheral to the work we need the court to do.

Afterthought: What lamebrain had the idea of trotting out sitting judges whose holdings would be under Alito’s review if he’s confirmed to say how wonderful he is? And how can the word of someone dense enough to agree to do this carry any weight at all…don’t these guys have any sense of shame…or dignity?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

4 thoughts on “A piece missing”

  1. Alito and the Injustice of the Law

    I was in the car a lot today: had to drive Aidan to and from the dentist; then had to go to an out of town meeting. Where I live there are few options for radio listening. Beyond NPR,

  2. Arguing Past Each Other

    Kevin Drum points to a Michael O'Hare post that succinctly differentiates the divide on the Judiciary Committee, and by extension between the Democrats and Republicans generally on the purpose of judges: I also have a sense of a man with, as my friend …

  3. O'Hare on Alito

    In a post endorsed by Kevin Drum, ProfessorBainbridge.com's favorite liberal blogger, Michael O'Hare says some very nice things about Samuel Alito but then complains that Alito:… has is a piece missing, conspicuously, radiantly, displaying the absenc…

  4. O’Hare on Alito

    In a post endorsed by Kevin Drum, ProfessorBainbridge.com’s favorite liberal blogger, Michael O’Hare says some very nice things about Samuel Alito but then complains that Alito:… has is a piece missing, conspicuously, radiantly, displaying the absenc…

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