Black Caucus Chair on Opposition to Alito

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The Congressional Black Caucus has come out against the appointment of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito — an appointment they say will jeopardize civil rights. Now caucus members are lobbying a bipartisan group of senators who could hold Alito's confirmation in their hands. Ed Gordon gets more from Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), who chairs the caucus.

ED GORDON, host:

Now we turn to North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt. He is the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Congressman, good to have you with us again. You just heard from Ms. Perino. What's your thought?

Representative MELVIN WATT (Democrat, North Carolina): Well, I--it seems to me that they're trying to change the discussion and the debate into whether a meeting with Judge Alito is appropriate as opposed to Judge Alito's record. On the process issue, our letter to Judge Alito and to the administration about the meeting was out approximately 30 days. That's plenty of time for somebody to respond to a request for a meeting either to say, `Yes, we're considering it,' `No, we're not considering it,' `Yes, we're gonna meet with you,' `No, we're not going to meet with you.'

So--and she's correct that we have not sought a meeting since we came out with our opposition because we told them in advance that our plan was to make a determination. We wanted to meet with him to have the benefit of his input before we made that determination, and once we made the determination, they told us they thought the meeting was moot, which we basically agree with, but that doesn't change Judge Alito's records. Neither does the fact that our polling suggests that the American people may be at this point supportive of his record. Polling--if we did polling on every issue of importance to African-Americans or any people in this country and made that the determining factor, we'd be in a world of trouble, in my opinion, so our concern is based on Judge Alito's record over 15 years that he's been on the bench. And he can't escape that record.

And the thing that's troubling about it, the thing that makes it so extraordinary, is that he has repeatedly, time after time after time, denied the right of people to even get into court to have their case heard. He's dismissed cases at the beginning of the level before they even get a chance to offer evidence of whether there's discrimination or not. On reviewing the pleading, he'll find a way to keep a case out of court or keep cases out of court even when other people on the court with him have taken the opposite position and even chastised him about how conservative he is in his position. He's still out there doing that, and when you have that with a lower court judge, it's not as troubling, but when that's the judge that's gonna make the final determination on the Supreme Court, and time after time after time a judge is ruling that you won't even have an opportunity to have your day in court, that's very troubling, and that's the thing that was decisive from my own perspective.

GORDON: The biggest concern from your perspective are past judicial rulings, writings and memos that we've seen and particularly on the side of discrimination cases that he's been affected with or that he has, in fact, affected?

Rep. WATT: Primarily judicial cases, I mean, unlike Roberts, where you had a lawyer who had been out there advocating on behalf of clients and explaining that by saying, `Well, you know, I'm in--I'm a lawyer, I'm an advocate for the position of my client.' That doesn't necessarily reflect the position that I would take as a judge. Judge Alito has been a judge and he has a whole history of decisions that you can look at and see what kind of attitude has this man had towards civil rights, toward employment discrimination, toward the right of criminals to--or alleged criminals to have their cases reviewed. And consistently, time after time after time, he has either decided against these claims even being heard by the court, or he has been in the minority on the court and dissented, written aggressive dissenting opinions that say these people should not have even a say in court. Now this is not a lawyer advocating for clients and able to say, `Well, I might take a different position if I was a judge in the case.' This is a judge that has demonstrated time after time after time that he has an aggressive opposition to the rights of people to have civil rights cases heard.

GORDON: Congressman, what of those who will suggest--we're going to hear from Mychal Massie, a conservative author and talk show host, who suggests that the Congressional Black Caucus and others are in one sense selling African-Americans up the river, if you will, by virtue of the idea that most people believe, even with this stance, that Judge Alito will, in fact, reach the bench. That being said, you will potentially be making it harder for cases that you would have to push through.

Rep. WATT: Well, I just--I don't buy into that theory, and, you know, if we--that's kind of the whole civil rights theory, just get along and go along. A lot of people oppose the civil rights movement because they said, you know, if you turn up your opposition to somebody, then that's gonna increase or enhance their opposition to you. And I just don't believe that. I don't--I didn't believe it during the civil rights times, and I believe it even less when it relates to a judge whose responsibility is to put those kinds of things aside. I think he's able to put those things aside. What he's not able to put aside is his own predilections and opinions about cases, and whether we oppose him or don't oppose him...


Rep. WATT: ...that's not going to change his opinion.

GORDON: What about the response from the senators, the Gang of 14? Do you believe that you'll be able to garner support from this group if, in fact, in your opinion, a filibuster is needed?

Rep. WATT: Well, we think this is certainly and--meets their criteria of extraordinary circumstances. They've set the criteria as being extraordinary circumstances. These are extraordinary circumstances because Judge Alito has such an aggressive strong record against civil rights--in civil rights cases and, in fact, in other cases. We didn't focus on other areas because our--the Congressional Black Caucus' primary interest is seeing how a judge would decide cases that relate to minority citizens. That's why the Congressional Black Caucus exists in the first place. So we focused on that aspect of his record, but his record is equally bad in a number of other areas.

GORDON: With about a minute left, Congressman, what of those who suggest that those who hold the gold control the game and that conservatives, in fact, control the White House and both Houses of Congress and this is just what you get when you lose elections?

Rep. WATT: Well, you expect to get judges who are conservative. We're not opposed to conservative philosophy. What we're opposed to people--is to people who have--have just absolutely closed their mind and won't even let you...


Rep. WATT: ...into court to even have your case presented. And that's what we found about--that was so troubling about Judge Alito.

GORDON: All right. Well, Congressman Mel Watt, as always, we appreciate you coming on the program. Whenever we call you, you're here. So we greatly appreciate it. And as we get closer to January 9th and the start of the hearings and certainly through it, we'll call you back and see where we stand.

Rep. WATT: Thank you so much.

GORDON: Thank you.

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