MELISSA BLOCK, host:
More Supreme Court news today: A flood of new material related to Samuel Alito. He's the federal appeals judge whom President Bush has nominated to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The National Archives unsealed hundreds of pages from Alito's work as a Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration. On Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a 60-page questionnaire that Judge Alito completed. And the man who will chair the confirmation hearings sent out a letter outlining some of the questions he'll ask Alito. NPR's Ari Shapiro is here to help us sort through all this material.
And, Ari, let's start with the documents from Alito's years at the Justice Department and one in particular, a document about abortion.
ARI SHAPIRO reporting:
That's right. It's a memo that Alito wrote to the solicitor general in 1985 about whether the government should take a position on an abortion rights case that was coming before the Supreme Court. And Alito argued that the government should become involved, but, he said, a frontal assault on Roe vs. Wade might fail. So he argued that the government should try to nudge the court toward restricting abortions through state regulations. He says in the memo, `We should make clear that we disagree with Roe vs. Wade,' but, he says, he finds the incremental approach preferable to a head-to-head battle. Just sort of as a side note here, the solicitor general, Charles Fried, said in a cover letter to the memo, `I need hardly say how sensitive this material is and ask that it have no wider circulation.'
BLOCK: Well, it now has wider circulation. What kind of response is there to that memo?
SHAPIRO: In a word, huge. This is the second document we've seen from Alito in which he appears to strongly oppose abortion. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York called the memo stunning, but Alito's supporters say he was just a lawyer working for his client, a pro-life administration. In meetings with senators, Alito said that he respects the precedent of Roe vs. Wade. He said in the questionnaire that the Senate Judiciary Committee released today that he has not told anyone how he would rule on the matter. But at this point, most of the written information we have from him seems to show him strongly opposing the landmark abortion decision.
BLOCK: What else did Judge Alito say in that Senate questionnaire that you mentioned?
SHAPIRO: All of the recent Supreme Court nominees have filled out these questionnaires and many of the questions were similar. One of them, for example, was about judicial activism. It basically asked Alito to explain his perspective on what the role of a judge ought to be. And in his answer, Alito kind of goes back and forth. On one hand he says when a violation has been proven, quote, "a court should not hesitate to impose a strong and lawful remedy."
On the other hand, he says judges should, quote, "avoid unnecessary interference with the authority and competence of the political branches." And, in the end, he seems to come down on the latter side. He says, `The cause of justice in the long run is best served if judges scrupulously heed the limits of their role rather than transgressing those limits in an effort to achieve a desired result in a particular case.'
BLOCK: Now some years back Samuel Alito argued cases for the government before the Supreme Court. Do those cases figure in today's documents?
SHAPIRO: Yes. There was a list of Supreme Court cases that Alito both argued and helped litigate during his time at the Justice Department. A few interesting ones involve affirmative action, and in all of those cases Alito took the Reagan administration's position against what the administration described as racial quotas.
There was another interesting case called FCC vs. the League of Women Voters of California. That one was about whether the government can prohibit public broadcasting stations that receive government money from editorializing. Alito argued that basically whoever pays the piper picks the tune, saying the government can regulate, and the Supreme Court disagreed. This is important because the Supreme Court is addressing a similar case later this year on the same issue.
BLOCK: And finally, the letter that Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent to Alito, what does it say?
SHAPIRO: It outlined some of the questions Specter plans to ask, mostly focusing on race and affirmative action. For example: `The Supreme Court's views on affirmative action have evolved considerably over the last three decades. How have your views evolved on the issue?' Specter also attached copies of similar letters that he sent to Roberts and Miers, the president's last two nominees, and said those questions are fair game as well.
BLOCK: OK, thanks.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome.
BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro.
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