Two Takes on the Alito Nomination: Right and Left Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the liberal The Nation, and Richard Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, discuss the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Both agree that this nomination is a victory for conservatives. But that's where the agreement ends.
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Two Takes on the Alito Nomination: Right and Left

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Two Takes on the Alito Nomination: Right and Left

Two Takes on the Alito Nomination: Right and Left

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

And we're going to bounce the nomination of Samuel Alito off of two editors, one from the right, one from the left. Rich Lowry is editor of the conservative biweekly National Review.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. RICH LOWRY (Editor, National Review): Thank you.

BLOCK: And Katrina vanden Heuvel edits the liberal weekly The Nation.

Thanks for being with us.

Ms. KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL (Editor, The Nation): Thank you.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you both what message you think this nomination sends to both the right and the left wing. Rich Lowry, why don't you go first?

Mr. LOWRY: Well, for us on the right, it sends the message that Bush realizes what a mistake he made with Harriet Miers. And he learned the correct lessons from that mistake and went with a jurist whose credentials and experience are beyond question, and also went with someone with a discernable conservative judicial philosophy. So there'll likely be a very harsh fight over this nomination, but Bush goes into that fight with a united base and with a united party, which means it's very likely he can win it.

BLOCK: And, Katrina vanden Heuvel, how would you differ from that appraisal?

Ms. VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I would differ--I think it's an astonishing spectacle that we see a president trying to repair an imploding presidency by capitulating, appeasing, rewarding, kissing the feet of unelected, right-wing power brokers who pushed out Harriet Miers in retreating to his base. And the cost of that, I think, we will see in the days ahead, as Rich referred to--the fights. We will see rip-roaring fights. And I think that liberals and Democrats understand how out of the mainstream this extremist right-wing judge, nicknamed `Scalito,' someone who will be to the right of anyone on the current court--that this fight is going to be a very, very tough one and possibly lead to the F-word, a filibuster.

BLOCK: Do you figure that this is inevitably going to end up being a confirmation battle around ideology, not around lack of qualifications? And if that's the case, can Democrats fight that battle? Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Ms. VANDEN HEUVEL: I think that's the fight Democrats have to wage this on. This is going to be an ideological fight, and it must be. This judge clearly has a paper trail. I mean, it's a paper trail which shows that he is not a judge who values judicial restraint. He would roll back decades of civil rights protections, workers' rights, consumer rights, environmental protection. And the Democrats need to make this a fight over substance, need to come out swinging. Don't argue process; argue how this will affect ordinary Americans' lives.

BLOCK: Well, Rich Lowry, let's look at the Bush presidency and where it is right now. You have last week's indictment of Lewis Libby, deep discontent in the polls--the president's approval rating has tumbled. Do you foresee a scenario where he has some trouble getting this through, getting moderate Republicans on board?

Mr. LOWRY: I doubt it. I mean, I can't see him losing more than two or three Republicans, sort of worst case. And, sure, I mean, there are going to be 35 Democrats who are going to vote against Alito no matter what just because he's a conservative, but I think it's going to be hard to demonize him. I don't think he's, you know, exactly a John Roberts, but he's pretty close. He's been on the appellate court for 15 years. He was unanimously confirmed to that court. He's widely respected among even some Democrats and liberals.

And Katrina would like to pretend that it was only conservatives complaining about Harriet Miers. I guess she never read any of Maureen Dowd's savage columns about Harriet Miers, where I think she was someone that united the right and the left in a lot of respects around the idea that she wasn't well-suited for the court.

BLOCK: Let me ask you this. Conservatives have been working for years now to tip the balance of the Supreme Court. Can they claim victory here? Will this nomination accomplish what they've wanted to do for a long time, Rich Lowry, tip the court to the right?

Mr. LOWRY: Well, it depends. First of all, he needs to get confirmed, but I think he will likely be more conservative than Sandra Day O'Connor. And what conservatives, at least the way we view it--what we want is a Supreme Court that reoccupies its proper place in the constitutional order, which is to interpret the Constitution as it was originally intended and written and get out of the way of democratic decisions made by elected bodies. And I don't think Alito sitting on the court will make that shift happen. I think you still need a couple more votes. But it'll be a step in the right direction.

And it's also--if we're talking about the democratic process, judges were a huge issue in the 2002 midterm elections. They were a huge issue last year. And every time Republicans have been able to go to the public saying, `We're in favor of nominating and confirming with up-and-down votes conservative judges to the Supreme Court,' they have won political battles, which is why I think they're probably going to win this one, as well.

Ms. VANDEN HEUVEL: Melissa, I think this is certainly a victory for the right, a huge victory for the extreme right. I think it's a defeat for the nation, for the country, for Americans who are out of step with the extremist agenda of a Samuel Alito or the Bush administration. I think people have to fix on what is at stake in this appointment. I mean, Alito would allow race-based discrimination, and this is coming from decisions, the paper trail, that senators need to scrutinize. He would allow disability-based discrimination. He would overturn Roe v. Wade. He supported unauthorized strip searches. These are important, substantive issues that affect millions of Americans in their daily lives, and I think for senator to bring attention to that is crucial.

And for Rich to suggest that this is a man in the mainstream of sort of--I think you're suggesting, Rich, in legal thinking is absurd, particularly when he's going to replace a swing vote like Sandra Day O'Connor. And, finally, for the president and the right, who claim to value judicial restraint, this is a judge who has done just the opposite in some of his core and key decisions.

BLOCK: There's been a bunch of rhetoric today indicating that both sides here are spoiling for a fight, that they really want a big battle over this nominee. Do you think that's true? Is that what both sides want? Rich Lowry, you first.

Mr. LOWRY: I think it's definitely what both sides want, and I think it's what we should get, and I think it's part of democracy and actually can be a healthy thing. We should have an argument over substance and over philosophy of our Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has become, you know, extremely important--in effect, super-legislature--in our country's politics, and it's important for us to democratically decide whether that is the proper role for the court to play or not. And the fact is if liberal judges and justices were so popular, you probably wouldn't have a Republican majority in the Senate and you wouldn't have a Republican president to make these nominations in the first place.

BLOCK: And, Katrina vanden Heuvel, do you see this as a way for the left to galvanize, to come together in some way?

Ms. VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I think this administration, more than any other--anyone else, needs a rip-roaring fight over the most critical Supreme Court nomination in years. It's just what Bush needs to turn attention away from his other troubles. I think Democrats need to fight on the substance, fight in terms of how this will affect people's lives and they need to be very clear about that. And I think that will be an important fight. And it's not--it speaks to the mainstream and Independents and moderates in this country, and I think Democrats have an opportunity to come out swinging doing that. And if they lose, well, then they gain by losing in the right way if they follow that process.

BLOCK: Thanks very much to you both.

Mr. LOWRY: Thanks for having us.

Ms. VANDEN HEUVEL: Thank you.

BLOCK: Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation. Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

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