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Supreme Lack of Judgement

by Amy F. Isaacs

Hidden amongst all the very important issues swirling around President Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court is one issue that is so fundamental it should have deep-sixed this nomination before it ever saw the light of day.

During Judge Alito's confirmation hearings for U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1990, he promised, in writing, to recuse or remove himself from "any cases involving the Vanguard companies." Vanguard is a stock and mutual fund firm in which Judge Alito holds between $390,000 and $975,000 in investments.

Yet, despite this written promise to not adjudicate cases involving Vanguard companies, Judge Alito participated in a 2002 case in which he ruled in Vanguard's favor. In other words, he broke his promise to the Senate.

This is not ideological. This is not right versus left. This is not Democrats versus Republicans. He lied - period, end of sentence. Additionally, his decision not to remove himself in a case with such obvious conflicts of interest brings into question his integrity and commitment to a fair and independent court. His participation in the Vanguard case is clearly in direct conflict with judicial ethics rules requiring disqualifications whenever judges know they have "ownership of a legal or equitable interest, however small" in a company that is party to a legal dispute.

Other issues are of critical concern. The preservation of civil liberties, civil rights, women's rights, and workers' rights are fundamental to the continuation of a free and open society. Judge Alito's record serving on the Third Circuit and his writings as a staffer moving up in the Republican Party ranks clearly illustrate his predisposition to weakening and abolishing these freedoms. However, his misleading answers to the Senate and his apparent violation of standard judicial ethics alone make a good case against his confirmation. The initial response from White House spokesperson Dana Perino was that a "computer screening program" used by the 3rd Circuit failed to pick up the potential conflict. She also said, "Judge Alito has spent his entire career in public service and his integrity is unquestioned."

A simple sidestep is not going to work this time. The Bush Administration which misled the American public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, leaked the identity of a covert operative and then tried to cover it up clearly sees nothing wrong with lying. This is a pattern which cannot and should not be ignored especially when a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is at stake. The case in question specifically and clearly named Vanguard Group, Inc., Vanguard Fiduciary Trust Co. and Vanguard's Morgan Growth Fund, Inc. I don't question Judge Alito's intellectual standing but, anyone could have figured out that the Vanguard companies were involved, even without a computer screening program. Why couldn't Judge Alito?

The Judiciary is, perhaps, the most important branch of our government. The Supreme Court protects and interprets our Constitution so that our nation can move forward in our ever-evolving society while maintaining the basic rights, freedoms, and protections that the country's founders and subsequent leaders so wisely sought and seek to guarantee. It is imperative that the highest court be occupied with justices of the highest ethical standards. President Bush's choice to serve fails to meet this basic standard. Senators voting on Judge Alito's elevation to the Supreme Court need to ask themselves if they really want to confirm someone who has demonstrably proven he can't be trusted. We, as thoughtful citizens, must hold our elected officials and the officials that they are tasked with appointing accountable to basic ethical standards. The Senate should reject the nomination of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court.


Ms. Isaacs is the national director of Americans for Democratic Action.

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