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Public Statements

Executive Session

Location: Washington, DC

EXECUTIVE SESSION -- (Senate - January 26, 2006)


Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise in support of the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I am supporting Judge Alito's nomination because he is, No. 1, superbly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, and, No. 2, and as important, he possesses the right view of the role of a judge, the right judicial philosophy, which I think is essential in terms of taking a seat on that high Court.

The appointments clause, article II, section 2, clause 2, of the Constitution gives the President the plenary power to nominate certain high-level officials and, as important, bestows on the Senate a crucial role, a crucial constitutional role, of advice and consent.

Like, I hope, every Member of this body, I take that constitutional duty of advice and consent very seriously. I owe it as high as any duty to the Louisiana people I represent. In line with that, I will neither provide a rubberstamp of approval for all of President Bush's nominees nor will I automatically disapprove any Democratic President's nominees for the Supreme Court or any other Federal court.

I think I have shown my seriousness of purpose in that regard in my short time in the Senate. I have studied the qualifications and legal writings of all nominees to see whether they possess a consistent and well-grounded judicial philosophy and have the right credentials and qualifications.

I was very upfront about being mindful of that responsibility when Harriet Miers was nominated. I looked very carefully at her qualifications and her judicial philosophy and, quite frankly, I expressed some real reservations about that.

That is why, after Judge Alito was nominated, I focused on those qualifications and that judicial philosophy just as hard. I met him personally. I watched his confirmation hearings. I read his record. That is the process I used to reach this conclusion, that, No. 1, he is eminently qualified in terms of credentials and background, and, No. 2, he has the right judicial philosophy, the right view of the role of a judge in our society.

Let's talk, first, about those basic legal qualifications. Again, Judge Alito is superbly qualified. His academic achievements and his distinguished career make that clear.

He has a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a J.D. from Yale Law School. After graduating from law school, Judge Alito began his career in public service as a clerk for Judge Leonard Garth on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and is now a colleague of his on that court. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney, Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey. He has argued specifically before the U.S. Supreme Court 12 cases, at least two dozen court of appeals cases; direct, relevant and impressive experience in terms of that sort of high-level litigation.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush nominated Judge Alito for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and he was confirmed by unanimous consent in this body because of his strong credentials and clear and overwhelming qualifications. Of course, today those qualifications are even greater because he has served as a judge on that circuit court for the past 15 years.

After being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ABA rated Judge Alito as ``well qualified.'' That is the highest rating possible. Everyone recognizes the ABA is not some conservative political group by any stretch of the imagination. If its membership has a slant, it is probably to the left. That is the gold standard, that rating of judicial qualifications and credentials. Again, Judge Alito received the highest rating.

Then he had his confirmation hearings. Despite some ugly questioning, frankly, and some smear tactics, in my opinion, he had an impressive performance. He demonstrated clear humility and indepth understanding of legal matters. And perhaps most impressive in terms of what he faced from the minority side, he maintained his composure in an unfortunately partisan atmosphere.

As I said at the beginning, those credentials and qualifications, that legal background is the first important matter I look to. But it is not the only matter. The second equally important matter I look to is a person's judicial philosophy. Do they understand the correct role of a judge in society? I have thought a lot about that regarding all nominees who have come before this body. I thought Judge Roberts expressed that role precisely right when he talked about being an umpire and not a pitcher or a batter. Judge Alito has that same view of the appropriate role of a judge.

Throughout the debate over judicial nominees, this notion of whether a nominee possesses the right judicial philosophy has been asked a lot. Some may ask what this term means and why it is important. Again, it is important because it goes to the heart of the role of a judge and how this democracy works. I believe what it means is a commitment to the rule of law, a commitment to the Constitution as written, and a commitment not to let one's personal political views or personal political leanings or prejudices enter into any of those important decisions on the Court. It requires a judge to be openminded, to analyze the law carefully, to analyze the facts of each case based on the Constitution and the law. It requires a judge not to do what can be tempting--intoxicating in terms of the power a judge can hold--not to make new law based on personal opinion, not to play legislator but to follow the law as enacted by the Congress or the State legislature.

Judge Alito has demonstrated that right judicial philosophy. He has demonstrated his unwillingness to change the law to fit his personal beliefs. He stated clearly:

There is nothing that is more important for our Republic than the rule of law. No person in this country, no matter how high or powerful, is above the law, and no person in this country is beneath the law.

What is vital and embedded in the concept of the rule of law is the application of the law as written, not judges becoming kings or legislators and imposing their views and legislating from the bench. I believe this is the second and crucial matter we must look to in the confirmation of judges, particularly those who would be Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. I have great confidence in Judge Alito's correct understanding of the role of a judge.

It has troubled me that throughout this confirmation process, some of my colleagues and many outside interest groups, many members of the press, have demonstrated a different view of the role of a judge. One way they have demonstrated that is by treating Judge Alito more akin to a candidate for political office than a nominee for the highest Court. They have talked about judges taking sides, being on this side versus that side, taking the side of labor versus management, taking the side of environmentalists versus business groups, taking the side of the little guy versus the big guy. In talking in those terms, many Members of this body and many liberal interest groups and many members of the press have demonstrated a completely different view of the role of a judge which is inappropriate. Other than the fact that many of their characterizations of Judge Alito in these terms are false--

for instance, he has decided in favor of employment discrimination plaintiffs in 22 percent of the cases, whereas the national average is 13 percent--it troubles me that the public is being led to believe that we should think of judges as legislators, that it should be a results-oriented discussion.

This goes to the heart of the confirmation process. The role of the judiciary is to interpret the law and to apply it to the facts of each case. It is not to elect legislators, politicians to go on the bench and vote certain interests or certain political philosophies.

I believe Judge Alito has the correct view, the opposite view, quite frankly, as has been demonstrated by some Members of this body and certainly by the liberal press and liberal interest groups. In his confirmation hearing, the judge made this clear. He described his disagreement with keeping a scorecard of how many times a judge rules for or against a particular party. He stated:

I don't think a judge should be keeping a scorecard about how many times that judge votes for one category of litigant versus another in particular types of cases. That would be wrong. We are supposed to do justice on an individual basis in the cases that come before us.

I wish to touch on one other specific type of case because I believe Judge Alito has been smeared in this category, and that is with regard to his strong record and experience in the area of civil rights. I have been disappointed that some of my Democratic colleagues have chosen to paint Judge Alito as having anything less than the stellar record on civil rights that he has. In doing so, they don't really cite any evidence for this accusation. They think if they just keep repeating this smear, one dreamt up by far-left groups such as Ralph Neas' People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice, if they keep repeating the lie over and over, the American people will fall for it. The American people are smarter than that. The American people are listening to some distinguished people, including distinguished African Americans, with whom Judge Alito has served.

To cite a couple of examples, the late Judge Leon Higginbotham, the first African American to serve on the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and whom the L.A. Times called ``a legendary liberal and scholar of U.S. racial history,'' had said of Judge Alito:

Sam Alito is my favorite judge to sit with on this court. He is a wonderful judge and a terrific human being. Sam Alito is my kind of conservative. He is intellectually honest. He doesn't have an agenda. He is not an ideologue.

Former Third Circuit Judge Timothy K. Lewis, an African American, testified in support of Judge Alito. He joked that it was no coincidence he was sitting on ``the far left'' of the panel. He said:

I was then--as I am now--a committed and active Democrat. I learned in my year with Judge Alito that his approach to judging is not about personal ideology or ambition. He is not result oriented. He is an honest conservative judge who believes in judicial restraint and judicial deference.

And Judge Lewis emphasized:

If I sensed that Sam Alito during the time that I served with him or since then was hostile to civil rights as a justice of the United States Supreme Court, I absolutely would not be here today.

I hope the smear tactics will end, particularly on an issue as important and sensitive as civil rights. I am confident the American people are hearing from those sound voices, including African-American voices, who have served directly with Judge Alito, many of them are politically liberal. Many of them are Democrats who say Judge Alito is fair. He is impartial. He is not results oriented.

That returns me to the central factor I have focused on in this process: Does Judge Alito have the right view of the role of a judge? Does he have the right judicial philosophy? Is he committed to the Constitution as written, to the rule of law as it is written not by him but by legislatures and the Congress? Is he committed to that and is he committed to not legislating from the bench? I believe his record and testimony and all of the evidence supports a firm conclusion that he is committed to that proper role of a judge. For that reason, I am proud to be supporting the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito. I am confident he will serve as a very distinguished member of the Supreme Court.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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