Alito's Way

The hapless Harriet Miers, President Bush's former pick to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court, was no friend to reproductive freedom. But she was slammed by the extreme right for invoking the notion of "self-determination" when it came to women and their right to choose.

Judge Samuel Alito, who today was nominated by the president for the O'Connor slot, is very clear on the issue of self-determination. He's against it. Consider his position in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992.

Alito, who has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit since his appointment by the first President Bush in 1990, was the lone dissenter when the case was before the Third Circuit, voting to uphold Pennsylvania's law requiring women to notify their husbands prior to obtaining an abortion.

He wrote separately from the majority to express his support for the law. The Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional the provision that women must notify their husbands before having an abortion. The court was eloquent on the issue of self-determination, emphatically rejecting Alito's interpretation: "A State may not give a man ... dominion over his wife ...," it ruled. "Women do not lose their constitutionally protected liberty when they marry."

In his dissent, Alito displayed callous disregard for the women in abusive relationships who would be affected by this statute. Again, the Supreme Court rejected Alito's interpretation, holding that it was the court's duty to protect these women.

The selection of Alito was clearly a move by the president, after the Miers debacle, to appease his ultaconservative base. To steal from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, we might call it his "super, duper" conservative base. Consider, Samuel Alito is known as "Scalito," after one of the court's most right-leaning justices, Antonin Scalia. He's also been called "Scalia-lite," not a promising moniker for a position that requires depth of thought, depth of intellect, and depth of character.

And this is a man who would replace the moderate Sandra Day O'Connor, who often cast the all-important swing vote on issues relating to reproductive rights. Had Judge Alito been on the Supreme Court instead of Justice O'Connor when Casey was decided, states today would be free to impose the medieval requirement that married women notify their husbands prior to an abortion - a requirement especially egregious for women in violent relationships.

The Senate must not confirm a nominee who has a long judicial record of hostility toward women's rights, privacy rights, and civil rights. Alito's confirmation could radically transform the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's decision to hear Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood at the end of November spotlights the urgency of the threat to reproductive freedom. In this high-stakes case, the justices are expected to rule on whether a woman's health will remain the paramount concern in laws that restrict abortion access. The ruling will have an immediate impact on women's health across the nation and will determine whether a fundamental principle established in Roe v. Wade will remain the law of the land.

When previous Supreme Court nominees had been put before the Senate and the public for consideration, Planned Parenthood was willing to assume a wait-and-see attitude. Not this time. Samuel Alito is so extreme, so far outside the mainstream, so committed to setting back women's rights and trampling on our hard-won freedoms, that our opposition will be immediate and vigorous and relentless.


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