Thursday, December 01, 2005

Alito proposed anti-abortion strategy in 1985


Alito proposed anti-abortion strategy in 1985

By Thomas Ferraro and Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, as a Reagan administration lawyer 20 years ago, outlined ways to limit abortion rights without overturning a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, a memo released on Wednesday showed.

This strategy, Alito wrote as an assistant in the U.S. Solicitor General's Office, could curb the landmark ruling without generating headlines about a "stinging rebuke" of it.

The 1985 memo by Alito was a road map on how to expand states' ability to regulate certain aspects of abortion.

President George W. Bush has nominated Alito, 55, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who often has been the swing vote on the nine-member court on abortion and other hot-button social issues.

A federal appeals judge the past 15 years, Alito could shift the nation's highest court to the right on such matters if confirmed by the full Republican-led Senate.

Memos stemming from Alito's work in the Reagan administration were released on the same day that he said judges must respect previous rulings and be "sensibly cautious" about their own decisions.

But Alito added in a written statement, "Judges should do all these things without shirking their duty to say what the law is and to carry out their proper role with energy and independence."


Alito made the comments in response to a questionnaire from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which is set to begin his confirmation hearing on January 9.

At the hearing senators are certain to ask Alito to explain his position on the issue now compared with where he stood on it as lawyer in the Reagan administration, which opposed abortion.

But like previous Supreme Court nominees, Alito may decline to answer, saying he does not want to prejudge matters that could come before the court.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the 1985 abortion memo "stunning."

"These latest revelations cast serious doubt on whether Judge Alito can be at all objective on the right to privacy and a woman's right to choose," Schumer said.

White House spokesman Steve Schmidt responded, "Judge Alito's 15-year record on the federal bench is the best indicator of his judicial philosophy and has shown a deep commitment and respect for precedent." He noted that Alito has ruled in "favor of both abortion rights and abortion restrictions."

Conservatives have rallied around Alito since his nomination last month, while many liberals oppose him, fearing he will move the court to the right.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said, "Judge Alito's questionnaire and his 15 years and more than 300 cases on the bench reveal a lot more about this brilliant jurist than any individual memo."

"I am pleased that Judge Alito's nomination remains on track for a fair up-or-down vote in January" by the full Senate, Frist said.

Republicans hold 55 of 100 Senate seats. But 60 would be needed to end a procedural roadblock known as a filibuster, though it is unclear if Democrats would try such a tactic.

In response to the Senate questionnaire, Alito made the case against "judicial activism," which critics charge amounts to judges imposing their own will from the bench rather than strictly adhering to the U.S. Constitution.

Alito wrote that judges must have "faith that the cause of justice in the long run is best served if they scrupulously heed the limits of their role rather than transgressing those limits in an effort to achieve a desired result."

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Donna Smith)