[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?