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Alito v. O'Connor:
Over at the National Journal, Stuart Taylor is auditioning for a job with People for the American Way. Sort of.
Nobody special:
The first section of his article demonstrates beyond dispute that he's qualified for the position.
1.9.2006 5:48pm
AF:
The article, which does not appear to be available for free, presents a dossier of conservative opinions ostensibly by Alito which are then revealed to be by O'Connor -- with the point being "to illustrate how easily the tactics used by liberal groups to tar Alito could be used to portray even the sainted, moderate O'Connor as a fanatical conservative." Clever enough, but even Taylor doesn't pretend that the fact one could paint O'Connor as an extreme conservative implies Alito is not one.

As to the arguments Taylor actually makes, they're pretty weak. He says : "And while I have failed (until now) to mention that O'Connor has drifted markedly toward the liberal side of the spectrum over the past two decades, Alito's critics have similarly ignored much evidence that his 15 years of steady, scholarly, precedent-respecting work as a judge tell us more about him than a handful of widely (and misleadingly) publicized memos that he wrote more than 20 years ago." This is a specious comparison. There is nothing "similar" about focusing on Alito's 1980s work and focusing on O'Connor's work from the same period, for one simple reason: O'Connor's more recent work has been done on the Supreme Court while Alito has been bound by Supreme Court precedent during those same years. Thus, it is helpful to focus on what Alito wrote in 1980s, before he took on the highly constrained role of intermediate judge, but it is not helpful to focus on what O'Connor wrote back then.

Next Taylor cites the "virtually unanimous praise voiced by the many moderates and liberals (as well as conservatives) who know Alito well: colleagues (current and former), classmates, friends, and former law clerks." But few people are in the habit of publicly criticizing their friends -- and many of Alito's friends are practicing lawyers who have reason to ingratiate themselves to him should he, as seems likely, be confirmed to the Supreme Court. The testimony of Alito's friends is an unpersuasive reason to think he's not agressively conservative.

Basically, this piece, written from the conceit of a level-headed non-partisan who can see through the spin, is, itself, partisan spin. In that respect, it is similar to some of the stuff Orin has been writing about the Alito nomination -- though Orin has admitted, in comments if not often in his posts themselves, that he is longtime acquaintance of Alito and is very much a partisan with respect to his nomination.
1.9.2006 6:10pm
AF:
Oops, the link worked this time. I got a passwork prompt the first time I clicked.
1.9.2006 6:13pm
Passing Visitor:
AF wrote:

Next Taylor cites the "virtually unanimous praise voiced by the many moderates and liberals (as well as conservatives) who know Alito well ..." The testimony of Alito's friends is an unpersuasive reason to think he's not agressively conservative.


And Stuart Taylor wrote:

After reading hundreds of news articles and interviewing dozens of people during the nearly 10 weeks since Alito's nomination, I have yet to come across a single suggestion (even anonymous) by anyone well acquainted with the man that he will bring a radical conservative agenda to the Court. If I have missed anyone out there, please let me know.


AF, are you taking up Taylor's challenge?
1.9.2006 6:20pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Clever enough, but even Taylor doesn't pretend that the fact one could paint O'Connor as an extreme conservative implies Alito is not one.
No; Taylor "pretends" -- or, rather, demonstrates -- that the fact that one can paint Alito as an extreme conservative does not prove anything at all, because one can do that for anybody even slightly conservative if one ignores context, selects a few cases out of a long career, and describes them tendentiously. The point of that wasn't "Alito is a moderate," but "Ignore PfAW; their methodology is worthless."

The testimony of Alito's friends is an unpersuasive reason to think he's not agressively conservative.
The phrase "many moderates and liberals (as well as conservatives) who know Alito well: colleagues (current and former), classmates, friends, and former law clerks" -- that is, what Taylor said -- cannot fairly be summarized by your use of the word "friends."
1.9.2006 6:27pm
AF:
No, because, as I said, I don't think the testimony of his friends and close acquaintances is an important consideration. I'd prefer to focus on his record, properly understood. Which means, for example, that you don't count the fact that his work as an appellate judge has been "precedent-respecting" as evidence of moderation; appellate judges must respect precedent. And you give great weight to the only public document in which he straightforwardly describes his legal ideology.
1.9.2006 6:29pm
Just an Observer:
I took issue with an earlier column by Taylor, in which I thought he strained to find anti-Alito media bias in some quarters where none existed, and conflated these non-examples with cases where the bias was acute.

However, this latest column, which I read as a satire on interest-group spin, was priceless.
1.9.2006 6:58pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
"Which means, for example, that you don't count the fact that his work as an appellate judge has been "precedent-respecting" as evidence of moderation; appellate judges must respect precedent."

Judges must respect precedent, but they often don't. The fact that he did what he was supposed to on the appellate courts is a point in his favor
1.10.2006 12:34pm
Michael B (mail):
Sam Alito looks like he walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting, his family much the same, a personification of Americana and his articulatations affirm that impression. I keep looking for the cloven hooves, the tell-tale tail, the trident, the nefariously mocking and boisterous laughter which conspicuously unveils evil intent. Is it at all possible I've been misled?

60+ votes; in an era of ideological sobriety it'd be 95+. Let'em filibuster, positively encourage it.
1.10.2006 1:22pm
frankj's grateful student (mail):
AF, please help me understand. I thought Taylor's point of referring to Alito's and O'Connor's early views was that nothing prevents Alito's judicial thinking from evolving in the direction that O'Connor's took.
1.10.2006 2:03pm
cathyf:
As a mathematician, I find it amusing to state things in the form of equations. In this case, solve this equation for X:
Byron White + Sandra O'Connor = Ruth Ginsberg + X
It's fun to think up candidates -- who could we find who is right-wing enough? Ann Coulter? Rush? Nah, too left wing...

Well, anyway, for sure Sam Alito doesn't come close to the conservatism required of Justice X...

cathy :-)
1.10.2006 2:21pm