A Princeton University Student, on Alito's Trail

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One of the most enterprising journalists covering Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court is a junior at Princeton University. Jacki Lyden talks with Chan Sethi about his reporting on Alito's time at Princeton in the early 1970s.


Two years ago, Chan Sethi moved from Toronto to New Jersey to attend Princeton University. He didn't know at the time that his education would include working as a reporter covering one of this year's biggest national stories. Sethi writes for the school newspaper, The Daily Princetonian. He's been covering Princeton alumnus Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, including Alito's membership in a group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, or CAP.

In the 1970s, CAP criticized the newly coed school for turning away from its traditional values. The American public and the senators' questioning Judge Alito during his confirmation hearings last week may not feel they've learned much about Alito's involvement with CAP, or his views at the time that he was on campus. Sethi says he found a similar degree of ambiguity talking with Judge Alito's former friends and classmates, including his college roommate Mark Dwyer.

Mr. CHAN SETHI (Reporter, The Daily Princetonian): Looking to what Dwyer and others who were on campus at the time have said about Alito, if there's one thing all of them say it's that Judge Alito was a very studious individual, a very serious student, but they can't really speak to what his ideological beliefs were or any other positions he held. Trust me. We and other media outlets have tried to somehow glean that information from these people, but they simply say they don't remember.

LYDEN: After all your research, what are your thoughts about what Samuel Alito was doing with this organization, which has been, of course, a big question in Washington?

Mr. SETHI: There has been one theory advanced that was of some interest to me personally. Sam Alito might have used CAP as a means of bettering his job prospects, for that Justice Department job in 1985. And Terry Eastland, who was the Justice Department spokesman at the time, was a former editor in chief of CAP's magazine, Prospect. Some of Sam Alito's friends have suggested that drawing attention to that connection would have helped Judge Alito get that job.

LYDEN: Tell me a little bit about where this figures in Princeton life today.

Mr. SETHI: Well, first of all, we're in the middle of exams, so we're busy enough. But for students, this really harkens back to a bygone era it seems. Talking to alumni, however, we've received much more response from them, so I really see a dichotomy between the reaction on campus or, in this case, off-campus from alumni.

LYDEN: In 20 years when we have the next Princeton-educated Supreme Court nominee, what will be written about that person? Is there any kind of equivalent today where there's maybe a sense of privilege?

Mr. SETHI: Often you'll meet an alumnus and they'll ask you two questions: `What did you major in?' and `What eating club were you a member of?' It seems like the on-campus debate at this time is more focused on this question of elitism. There are currently 10 eating clubs on Princeton's campus; five of them are selective, or bicker(ph) eating clubs. The bicker clubs have mechanisms in place to decide who should be a member of that club and who shouldn't be.

LYDEN: So, Chan Sethi, has covering this story made you want to continue in journalism?

Mr. SETHI: I suppose I am the classic college junior who's not really sure of what he wants to do. But if anyone wants to offer me a job, I guess I'd have to consider that.

LYDEN: Chan Sethi is a junior at Princeton University and a senior writer for its campus paper, The Daily Princetonian.

Thank you again.

Mr. SETHI: Thank you.

LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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