The Bush administration is mounting a counter attack against Knight Ridder for describing Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as a conservative. The offensive came after Senate Democrats circulated the story to constituents in the hopes that the analysis of opinions written by Alito could be used against him to derail his upcoming confirmation hearing.
The administration’s response – delivered separately Tuesday by the White House and the Justice Department – reflects its determination to defend Alito and its sensitivity to the “conservative” label for him.
The 2,500-word Knight Ridder analysis, based on 311 opinions by Alito during his service on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, concluded that he “has worked quietly but resolutely” to advance his conservative philosophy on a host of legal issues.
“Although Alito’s opinions are rarely written with obvious ideology, he’s seldom sided with a criminal defendant, a foreign national facing deportation, an employee alleging discrimination or consumers suing big business,” reporters Stephen Henderson and Howard Mintz wrote.
Administration officials said the story unfairly cast the Supreme Court nominee as a conservative ideologue.
“His 15-year record on the 3rd Circuit shows him to be a mainstream, fair, thorough judge,” Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand said in a C-SPAN interview devoted to her critique of the Knight Ridder analysis.
Brand, whose duties include shepherding judicial nominations through the Senate, rejected the conservative label for Alito.
“The term conservative means different things to different people. A judge is supposed to apply the law, not make it,” she said.
I have no argument with Assistant Attorney General Brand. Of course we want our Supreme Court Justices to interpret the constitution and apply the law as a result of that interpretation. I understand the reasons why the Bush administration would not want Alito to be pinned into an ideological corner as a less than competent extremist. It’s important for the administration to avoid any unnecessary bumps in the confirmation road. But, I’m afraid this avoidance of the ‘C’ word – the so-called conservative label, is an over-reaction that Republicans should generally avoid.
This hypersensitivity doesn’t lend itself well to the party. We expect Democrats to run from the ‘L’ word, because liberalism has taken on a negative caricature that the Democratic party hasn’t been able to redress. And as a weapon, it works. Wearing a big sign with the phrase “I’m a Liberal” simply won’t win you an election, and so you have individuals like Hillary Clinton who will do everything possible to avoid the label. Unfortunately for Democrats, Republicans know about this weak spot, and we’ll jab it with a fork every time.
Now, when a Republican reacts to the ‘C’ word in the same way Democrats react to the ‘L’ word, alarms should go off. It’s a false fear that must be shaken immediately. It’s illegitimate. By giving the impression that Republicans fear being called conservative, we adopt a negative issue that has become the exclusive domain of the Democratic party. This is something we simply don’t need to do.
The Bush administration has to use all of the necessary tools to ensure an Alito confirmation, but they need to be careful to avoid reacting negatively to conservatism. Let’s not delete the “C” word from our vocabulary.
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