Washington, D.C. - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid delivered the following statement today on the floor of the United States Senate.
Remarks as prepared:
“Two weeks ago the President nominated Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. I congratulate Judge Alito on this high honor, and I pledge that Senate Democrats will help ensure a thorough and dignified confirmation process.
“While I approach the confirmation process with an open mind, even at this early stage I have a number of significant concerns that I want to share with my colleagues.
“First, the President’s selection of Judge Alito was not at all the product of consultation with Senate Democrats. On two prior occasions President Bush invited me and Senator Leahy to the White House to discuss the future of the Supreme Court. I felt that the President listened seriously to our views, and appeared to understand that the job of filling judicial vacancies is a constitutional responsibility that he shares with the Senate.
“But this time, instead of an invitation to the White House, I received nothing more than a pro forma telephone call about an hour before the President announced his choice of Judge Alito.
“In fact, the President did consult about the Alito nomination — but not with me or Senator Leahy. According to press reports, the White House consulted widely with conservative activists to make sure the President would not disappoint them with his selection. Conservative web sites received word of the Alito nomination before any Senate Democrat was informed.
“Consultation is not just a courtesy. It is a way for the President to ensure that candidates for lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court receive broad, bipartisan support in Congress. The constitutional design commands a partnership in this endeavor, not mere notification to the co-equal branch of government.
“The second reason I have early concerns about this nomination is that it represents an abandonment of the principle that the Supreme Court should be comprised of highly qualified individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences and heritages.
“It is so striking that President Bush has chosen a man to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, the first of only two women ever appointed to the Supreme Court. Today, unlike 24 years ago when O’Connor herself was nominated, more than half of the nation’s law students are women. There are countless qualified women on the bench, in elective office, in law firms, and serving as law school deans. I cannot believe the President searched the country and was unable to find a qualified female nominee. But maybe he was unable to find a qualified female nominee who happened to satisfy the far right wing of the Republican Party.
“Meanwhile, for the third time, this President has turned down the opportunity to make history by nominating the first Hispanic to the Court. How much longer must Hispanics across America wait before they see someone on the nation’s highest court who shares their ethnic heritage and their shared experiences?
“At the same time, the appointment of Judge Alito largely fails to diversify the Court in terms of professional experience. Judge Alito is a long-serving federal appellate judge who would join eight other justices with that very same professional credential. While his prior service as a federal prosecutor is commendable and worthwhile, he was essentially an appellate lawyer like a number of the sitting justices.
“We have come a long way from the days when senators, bar leaders, trial lawyers, leading professors and others with a wide range of life experiences were routinely appointed to the Supreme Court. If Judge Alito is confirmed, the range of professional diversity on the Court will extend all the way from those who served on the D.C. Circuit to those who served on the First, Third, Seventh or Ninth Circuit before their promotions.
“The third and most important basis for my early concern about the Alito nomination is the fact that he was nominated following the forced withdrawal of White House Counsel Harriet Miers.
“Harriet Miers received a raw deal from her critics. This woman had been the managing partner of a major American law firm. She was the first female President of the Dallas Bar Association and the Texas Bar Association. She had been one of the nation’s leaders in promoting opportunities for women lawyers and minority lawyers, and she had been a champion of ensuring legal representation for the poor. The one-dimensional portrait her opponents painted of her was malicious and unfair.
“Let’s not sugarcoat the truth: the nomination of Harriet Miers was derailed by the overwhelming opposition of right wing activists. They campaigned against her, they ran advertising against her, and they finally succeeded in defeating her nomination even before this fine woman was afforded an opportunity to make her case to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Earlier this year we heard Senator after Senator and conservative commentators across the airwaves declare that every judicial nominee is entitled to an up or down vote. I have one question for those Senators and commentators: When exactly will Harriet Miers receive her up or down vote?
“The White House made a half-hearted effort to argue that the Miers nomination was withdrawn in the face of an impasse over what documents would be provided to the Senate. That is a pretext, a laughable cover story.
“Harriet Miers was forced to withdraw by conservative activists who want to change the legal landscape of America. They decided she was inadequately radical or insufficiently aggressive for their purposes, so they gave her the boot.
“You don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to the words of John Danforth, our former colleague from Missouri and until recently President Bush’s Ambassador to the United Nations. He was interviewed on CNN recently and was asked who he thought were the winners of the Miers episode. He answered as follows:
“The big winner is the right wing of American politics. They have scored a big victory. This was a power play on their part. And they won it….they took on Harriet Miers for no explainable reason. It was really an outrage, in my opinion, that this happened.”
“Senator Danforth is himself a pro-life Republican and an ordained Episcopal priest, but listen to what he says about his fellow Republicans:
“I am very concerned about the ascendancy of the political right, particularly in the Republican Party. It’s very obvious that nobody can do enough to please them. The president certainly can’t….They gave him a kick in the teeth. I think [the Republican Party has] been taken over by people I feel uncomfortable with and a lot of Republicans feel uncomfortable with…They want a political judge. They want a judicial activist.”
“Senator Danforth has revealed an important truth about today’s Republican Party. His warnings are precisely why the Senate needs to take a long hard look at the Alito nomination.
“Even in the first two weeks of the confirmation process, a picture of Sam Alito is emerging that may explain why the right-wing is popping champagne corks. Earlier this week we learned of the 1985 memo in which Alito said “I am, and always have been a conservative” and spoke proudly of his work on behalf of the extremely conservative agenda of the Reagan Justice Department.
“We don’t have to guess whether Judge Alito’s description of himself in that memo would predict what kind of judge he would be. For the past fifteen years, Judge Alito has been one of the most conservative federal judges in the country.
“For example, in civil rights cases he has often dissented to argue for higher barriers to recovery for people with claims of discrimination. In Bray v. Marriott Hotels, his colleagues said Title VII of the Civil Right Act “would be eviscerated” if Judge Alito’s approach were followed. In Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, he dissented in a disability rights case where the majority said: “few if any Rehabilitation Act cases would survive” if Judge Alito’s view were the law. And in Sheridan v. DuPont, he was the only one of 11 judges on the court who would apply a higher standard of proof in a sex discrimination case.
“In another area of the law, Judge Alito has been quick to limit the authority of Congress, when it is working to help people with real problems.. In Chittester v. Department of Community Development he held that the Constitution did not allow a state employee to enforce the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Supreme Court effectively repudiated that view three years later in the Hibbs case from my own State of Nevada.
“These are just a few of Judge Alito’s many judicial opinions which merit close review by the Senate.
“By all accounts, Sam Alito is a decent man, well-liked by his colleagues. He has devoted his entire legal career to public service, and for that he is to be admired. Throughout the confirmation process, I will work to ensure that Judge Alito is treated with civility and respect. But there is nothing disrespectful about an open and fair-minded review of a nominee’s approach to the Constitution and his commitment to core American values like equality, privacy and fairness.
“Let me make one final point about the confirmation process. This nomination will be governed by the 200 year old rules of the Senate. I was very dismayed to read an essay by the Majority Leader in the Chicago Tribune last week in which he threatened to change the rules of the Senate to ensure that Judge Alito would be confirmed. He wrote: “If members of the Democratic minority persist in blocking a vote on Alito’s nomination, the Senate will have no choice but to” change the rules.
“The Majority Leader’s accusation is baseless. Democrats can hardly “persist” in an activity we are not engaged in. No Democrat has even raised the issue of extended debate. At this early stage of the process, two months before committee hearings on this nomination will begin, it is silly to argue about the terms of floor debate.
“Earlier this year, the entire Senate breathed a sigh of relief when the so-called “nuclear option” was averted by the agreement of a bipartisan group of Senators. The Majority Leader should put his sword back in its sheath and let the Senate move forward on this nomination without idle threats.
“I am confident that the Senate Judiciary Committee, under the able leadership of the senior Senators from Pennsylvania and Vermont, will do a wonderful job of illuminating Judge Alito’s record and his views. The rest of the Senate, and the rest of the nation, will pay close attention.”