Thursday, January 12, 2006

Backstage with Judge Alito

Not crass like Clarence Thomas, or GQ like John Thomas, but a regular Joe, that Sam Alito. A journeyman judge. Just vote him in, Mr. Kennedy. Leave him alone, Mr. Biden. As for Mrs. Alito crying on cue and rushing from the hearing to the nearest ladies room? A scene from a future tee-vee drama 'ripped from the law & order meets west winged er sideways' headlines? Maybeeeee. But maybe not.


Backstage Drama Abounds at Alito Hearings
Jan 11 th 2006

By LAURIE KELLMAN--Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Off camera, the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito Jr. offer better entertainment than what makes it to the TV screen.
Witnesses are abruptly uninvited.

Senators, their faces pancaked with makeup, openly yawn.

One, fidgeting, accidentally kicks the backside of a photographer squatting just in front of the senators' dais.

With Democrats and liberal interest groups struggling to land a punch on President Bush's second Supreme Court nominee, Alito appears on a smooth track to confirmation.

But away from the lights, drama unfolds.

The Republicans and Democrats each have scrapped a witness they had committed to bring forward.

On the Republican side, Cathy Fleming, who worked under Alito when he was U.S. attorney for New Jersey and has known him for two decades, was to testify in support of his nomination, according to a GOP witness list.

Problem: Fleming also is president-elect of the National Association of Women Lawyers, which declared Jan. 8 that it had evaluated Alito's record and found him "not qualified to serve on the court from a women's rights perspective."
Witness withdrawn.

For the Democrats, Stephan R. Dujack had been scheduled to testify on Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group known for its opposition to opening the school to women and bringing in more minorities. Dujack, also a graduate of Princeton, covered the group for the Ivy League school's alumni magazine for a decade.

Problem: He wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times in April 2003 titled "Animals Suffer a Perpetual Holocaust," defending the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In it, he quoted his grandfather, Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer:

"In relations to (animals), all people are Nazis. For (them), it is an eternal Treblinka." In a column published in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Dujack said he has apologized to Holocaust victims who were offended.

Judiciary Committee member John Cornyn, R-Texas, declared that Democrats were "desperate" to call a witness who has made such controversial statements.

Witness withdrawn.

Meanwhile, off camera, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's highest- ranking Democrat, fidgeted in his seat at the head of the committee table. Dozens of news photographers squatted below him in the "well" between the dais and Alito's table, in position to get their images of the nominee.

"I discovered some obstacle under the table and I tried a few times to move it out of the way with my foot," Leahy, D-Vt., wrote in his blog. "I discovered in mortification that it was a press photographer, wedged in front of the dais."

"God bless 'em all for all they do and for all they endure," Leahy wrote.

What passed for on-camera drama Wednesday came during a prickly yes-no exchange over whether Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., had received a letter from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., asking that the committee seek certain papers related to Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

Kennedy said he sent it.

Specter said he didn't receive it.

Kennedy said he must have received it.

"I take umbrage at your telling me what I received," Specter said. "I don't mind your telling me what you mailed. But there's a big difference between what's mailed and what's received. And you know that."

Kennedy demanded the committee go into closed session to vote on subpoenaing the documents from the Library of Congress.

"And if I'm going to be denied that," Kennedy thundered, "I'd want to give notice to the chair that you're going to hear it again and again and again and we're going to have votes of this committee again and again and again until we have a resolution."

"Well, Senator Kennedy, I'm not concerned about your threats," interrupted Specter. "I'm not going to have you run this committee and decide when we're going to go into executive session."

With that, he turned his head away, banged the gavel and opened another round of questions.

Speaking of Princeton University, Sen. Joe Biden is for it.

There was some confusion over his position on the matter during questioning Tuesday about CAP. Biden declared he "wasn't a big Princeton fan" years ago because of enrollment policies, which Alito says have changed.

"I didn't even like Princeton," Biden told Alito Tuesday. "I mean, I really didn't like Princeton. I was an Irish Catholic kid who thought it had not changed like you concluded it had."

A day later, Biden went for the photo-op, questioning Alito about CAP while wearing a white baseball cap emblazoned with "PRINCETON."
"I want to, kind of, set the record straight on Princeton," Biden said.

"You know, I'd be proud of my daughter at Princeton Graduate School, instead of (University of Pennsylvania) now," he said, quickly adding, "although I am very proud she is at Penn."


For his part, the nominee was showing a bit of wear on his third day of hearings.

On television Wednesday morning, a five-o'clock shadow and a sheen of perspiration showed through any makeup Alito may have been wearing.

And that was after a night of sleep. The evening before, as nearly 10 hours of hearings drew to a close, Alito in person looked notably wan, his eyes red with fatigue.

The change in roles and visibility was "strange" for Alito, he told the panel. After all, he is used to being the judge, the questioner _ not the questionee, with the whole world watching.

"At times it's been a thrill and at times it's been extremely disorienting," Alito told the committee Tuesday, in response to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C.

It's a long way from a judge's bench, Alito said.

"You probably could not think of a more cloistered existence than a judge on the court of appeals," Alito said. There, "most of the time nobody other than the parties pays attention to what we do."


No comments: