Business Groups to Endorse Alito Nomination

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are expected to endorse Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. Business interests believe Alito will give them a fair hearing, and that he understands the real-life consequences of certain cases.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The business news starts with a business view of the Supreme Court. Today the US Chamber of Commerce is expected to make an endorsement, along with the National Association of Manufacturers. They will support Judge Samuel Alito, President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court. NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH reporting:

Culture wars may get top billing in the battle over Supreme Court nominees, but John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, says there's much more at stake.

Mr. JOHN ENGLER (President, National Association of Manufacturers): Even if we look at the court's upcoming docket, in their non-criminal cases, two-thirds of those are business-type cases. Those are contracts and employment law, labor law--those kinds of things--they're not the social agenda.

SCHALCH: Engler says Judge Alito understands business cases and their real-life consequences. Robin Conrad, senior vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce's Litigation Center, agrees.

Ms. ROBIN CONRAD (Senior Vice President, US Chamber of Commerce's Litigation Center): What we're looking for is a judge who can give the business community a fair shake, and we think that we will get that with Judge Alito.

SCHALCH: Labor unions contend businesses will get more than a fair shake. Lynn Rhinehart is associate general counsel at the AFL-CIO.

Mr. LYNN RHINEHART (Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO): His tendency is to rule against workers and to rule in favor of corporations.

SCHALCH: One thing that appeals to business groups and worries their critics is Alito's tendency to read certain laws literally and apply them narrowly. Lynn Rhinehart.

Ms. RHINEHART: These are minimum wage laws, health and safety laws, pension protection laws, anti-discrimination laws.

SCHALCH: And Rhinehart calls Alito's stance on worker protections `outside the mainstream.' She points to a ruling restricting state employees' right to family medical leave. The Supreme Court, under former Chief Justice Rehnquist, overturned that decision. Rhinehart also cites Alito's dissenting opinions in cases involving overtime pay and allegations of workplace discrimination.

Ms. RHINEHART: In several instances, he's shown himself to be even more conservative than other Republican appointees to the court. In one case, the court majority said that Judge Alito's reasoning would eviscerate Title VII, the law passed by Congress to prevent job discrimination.

SCHALCH: But Ted Frank, a legal scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, disagrees.

Mr. TED FRANK (American Enterprise Institute): Judge Alito said in his dissent that the employment discrimination laws should be limited to cases where there's actual discrimination rather than cases where somebody's unhappy with an employment decision and wants a jury to second-guess whether or not they were the better-qualified person.

SCHALCH: And that makes sense, Frank says, because otherwise almost any personnel decision can land an employer in court. John Engler of the National Association of Manufacturers agrees.

Mr. ENGLER: You don't want to have courts who simply take a liberal view of everything and say, `Well, it wasn't in the law, but if they'd have thought about it, they might have put it in; therefore, we'll allow damages or we'll regulate this or we'll prohibit this kind of activity.'

SCHALCH: Engler's also encouraged by Alito's views on the First Amendment, specifically that corporations have the right to free speech and free association. In one case, Alito used that reasoning to throw out a lawsuit against a member of a trade group that was accused of concealing the dangers of asbestos. Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin says she doesn't see Alito as being outspokenly pro-business or anti-labor.

Professor ANN ALTHOUSE (University of Wisconsin): I think you can see that he's going to be a conservative judge and predict that. But overall what one sees is a careful judicial mind, and I think he deserves a lot of respect for that.

SCHALCH: But such arguments don't dampen business groups' enthusiasm for Alito, nor do they make groups like the AFL-CIO any less worried.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

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