Thursday, March 02, 2006

Alito's Note to Evangelist Is Called Just Thank

The New York Times
Alito's Note to Evangelist Is Called Just Thanks

WASHINGTON, March 1 — In his first weeks on the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. sent a note to Dr. James C. Dobson, the influential Christian conservative, thanking him for his support and vowing that "as long as I serve on the Supreme Court, I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me," Dr. Dobson said Wednesday in a radio broadcast.

Kathy Arberg, a spokeswoman for the court, said Justice Alito had written the note in response to a letter of congratulations from Dr. Dobson. "The justice has responded to scores of congratulatory letters from people of all walks of life, and he has included as a standard sentiment in the letters the hope that he will live up to the trust and confidence that has been placed in him," Ms. Arberg said.

She declined to identify who else had received such letters from Justice Alito.

Dr. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and host of its radio program, is one of the most popular evangelical Christian authors and speakers in the country, and he urged his millions of listeners to do everything they could to support Justice Alito's confirmation.

Justice Alito alluded to the response in his letter. "I would also greatly appreciate it if you would convey my appreciation to the good people from all parts of the country who wrote to tell me that they were praying for me and for my family," he wrote.

In his broadcast on Wednesday, Dr. Dobson indicated that he had taken that as a request to share the letter with his audience. Celebrating the Supreme Court confirmations of both Justice Alito and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Dr. Dobson said, "We do not yet know how these men will vote, but every indication is that they get it, they understand."

Their confirmation may be "just in time," Dr. Dobson said, "because partial-birth abortion is now being considered by the Supreme Court."

In an e-mail message on Wednesday, Dr. Dobson said it was "wild speculation" and "simply ridiculous" to suggest that Justice Alito was pledging his votes on the court.

"He simply wrote asking me to thank those who prayed for strength and wisdom during the past few months," Dr. Dobson said.

Sending thank-you notes after judicial confirmations is relatively common, but Stephen Gillers, a law professor and ethics expert at New York University, said the note's wording was surprisingly ambiguous for a letter from a Supreme Court justice.

"It is inartful, it is clumsy, it is a poor choice of language, it is unfortunate, but I think we have to give Justice Alito the benefit of the doubt," Professor Gillers said.