New Papers Released on Supreme Court Nominee Alito

The National Archives released more documents Wednesday from Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's tenure at the Justice Department. The papers bore few new revelations, as preparations continued for next month's confirmation hearings. Susan Stamberg talks to lawyer Tom Goldstein about the documents.

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In Washington, the National Archives has released more documents from Judge Samuel Alito's tenure at the Justice Department. Alito's confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court seat are expected early in the year. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg spoke with a close observer of the court.

SUSAN STAMBERG reporting:

Reaction to the Alito nomination was positive, amongst conservatives anyway, but Senate Democrats plan to question the judge closely when hearings begin January 9th. Joining us to talk about the hearings, Tom Goldstein. He's a lawyer who's argued 16 cases before the Supreme Court and he teaches Supreme Court litigation at Harvard and Stanford.

Mr. Goldstein, the National Archives released thousands of pages of documents over the past two months. It's a paper trail of lawyer Alito's work at the Justice Department in the Reagan years. What is the overall impression of Judge Alito's thinking from this record?

Mr. TOM GOLDSTEIN (Attorney): Well, from the avalanche of documents that are out there, people have mined out a few nuggets that they think are gold, particularly opponents of Sam Alito. They think that they have some smoking guns when it comes to his very strongly felt objection in his role as a lawyer, as opposed to a judge, to Roe vs. Wade. And across a range of issues, he comes across as a very solid, conservative judge. Now very thoughtful, very intelligent, but on a question of ideology, rock solid.

STAMBERG: Well, apparently, a lot of clues to the way he thinks come from a job application that he filled out in 1985. In those days, he was being considered for the deputy attorney general's job. He got that job the next year. And on the basis of that document emerged a good deal of discussion about various strategies he had to limit the right to abortion. So how much do you think these confirmation hearings are going to focus on that?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Oh, very much, because what the senators are looking for when they're going to question him is the set of issues that the American public can really understand, can really grab hold of and really cares about. And abortion, frankly, when it comes to the Supreme Court, is at the top of that list, particularly when you're talking about a nominee who's going to replace the swing vote of Sandra Day O'Connor.

STAMBERG: There's been a good deal of coverage, of course, the National Security Agency and the spying that has been conducting inside the United States without warrant. Is that going to be an issue in these hearings, do you think?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: I do, because it's the controversy of the day and because it's really a legal question that can go before the Supreme Court. Ironically, precisely because it's such a current issue, he probably will just say, `Well, this is a question that could come before me as a Supreme Court justice, so I really can't give you a detailed answer.'

STAMBERG: Uh-huh, Yeah. Can any of these issues really make problems for the Alito nomination in the Senate?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Well, I think the nomination has some problems. I think even the administration would say that they're in the range right now of losing, say, 40 votes or more. The question, though, is is something that dramatic out there that would sustain a filibuster? And I would think the answer to that question pretty clearly is not yet.

STAMBERG: What about the passage of time between the nomination and the start of the hearings? Can that be problematic?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Some believe that when Judge Robert Bork was defeated back in the 1980s, which is really the most famous defeat of a Supreme Court nominee, it was because there was a big gap between the day he was nominated and the time that the hearings were held. Ironically, the thing that has helped Sam Alito probably the most during this delay is the NSA domestic spying controversy because liberals have been very focused on attacking the president rather than focused on attacking Sam Alito. So there isn't a real sense that opponents have built up a lot of momentum over the past few weeks and going into the January hearings.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much.

Lawyer Tom Goldstein runs the Web site SCOTUSblog.com. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

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