Monday, January 16, 2006

I, I, Sir: The Alito Hearings, Annotated
I, I, Sir: The Alito Hearings, Annotated

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee observed with some pride last week that Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito answered more than 700 questions during his confirmation hearings. But what did he say?

To answer this question, The Washington Post asked Adrian Holovaty, who holds the position of boy genius/computer wiz at, to run a computer analysis of the transcripts of the four-day hearing to see what phrases came out of the judge's -- and the senators' -- mouths most often.

By the numbers, Judge Alito's language was painfully cautious. He mentioned " stare decisis " -- respect for precedents (i.e., Roe v. Wade ) 68 times. But he mentioned "abortion" only 23 times and hardly used the word "overturn" at all. Among his top three-word phrases: "I don't know" (29 times). Among his top four-word phrases: "I would have to" -- as in, "I would have to know the arguments that are made" before answering the question (21 times).

The nominee relied heavily on the language of law books, mentioning "Humphrey's Executor" (whoever he is) 10 times, "undue burden" 10 times, and "jurisdiction" 25 times.

The senators spent less time in the legal gobbledygook and more time scoring political points. Democrats mentioned "Vanguard," a reference to a conflict-of-interest for Alito, 68 times. They invoked Roe 59 times, and "CAP," a controversial group Alito joined, 29 times. "Above the law" came up a dozen times, and "the unitary executive" -- an extreme view of presidential power -- 14 times.

Republicans, defending Alito, countered with flattering and upbeat terms: "integrity" (43 times), "fair" (41), "confirmed" (36), "respect" (34), and "balance" (26). "American Bar Association," which gave Alito its top rating, got 16 GOP mentions.

But one thing united lawmakers on both sides: reverence for the first person. Republicans used the "I" word 1,180 times. Democrats used it 1,123 times. Combined, they used it well more than the nominee, who said "I" 1,907 times.