Qualifications not in doubt this time

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 12:34 a.m.
President Bush went to the bench for his latest Supreme Court nominee, Samuel A. Alito Jr. In so doing, he sidestepped the question of qualifications that helped bring down Harriet Miers, his first choice for the seat of outgoing Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but who had never served as a judge.
Judicial credentials shouldn't be an issue in the confirmation hearings for Alito, who has spent the past 15 years on the bench of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said a University of Florida law professor who specializes in constitutional law.
"I think he is eminently qualified, on the order of Chief Justice (John) Roberts in terms of his resume," said Sharon Rush, the Irving Cypen Professor of Law in UF's Levin College of Law. "It's interesting also because he's been a federal judge and does have this paper trail, and that will make it easier for Democrats to find points of contention."
But, she said, "It will be hard to say he is not qualified."
Almost certain to be among the points of contention is Alito's views on abortion.
He was the lone dissenter in 1991 when the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled as unconstitutional a Pennsylvania law that required a woman seeking an abortion to notify her husband. But nine years later Alito joined the majority of the appellate court in striking down a New Jersey law that banned late-term abortions. In his opinion in that case, he noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that such a law must include an exception if the mother's health were endangered.
The new nominee's lengthy paper trail of opinions suggests he is the strong conservative demanded by Bush's base, especially anti-abortion Christians who helped sink Miers' nomination. Rush said abortion is a hot-button issue that, with Alito and other conservatives on the high court, could lead to overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion.
Alito's conservative record on women's issues is troubling and threatens to "push progress back," said Stephanie Seguin, vice president of the Gainesville Area National Organization for Women.
"We're concerned because Bush has a history of nominating or appointing people with anti-woman politics," Seguin said.
Even before Bush announced his nomination of Alito early Monday, the local NOW and the Florida NOW Young Feminist Task Force - a coalition of college chapters - had scheduled a "Halloween Protest" Monday evening on the corner of W. University Avenue and 13th Street.
"Our main point is that we're not going to stand for any more anti-women people like Roberts, Miers and now Alito," Seguin said.
She said she didn't necessarily want a woman to be nominated for O'Connor's seat.
"We want a nominee - man or woman - who is going to protect the progress women have made," she said. "We had our concerns about Miers. Just because she is a woman doesn't mean she would stand up for women in the courts.
"Equal pay, Title Nine (the 1972 federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in higher education), violence against women issues - there are a lot of things that come through the court that could use a nominee that would stand up for women," Seguin said.
Rush said "it would have been nice" if Bush had nominated another woman or a person of color.
"I'd like to see diversity on the court," she said. "I think that's important, especially for the younger generation."
As a constitutional scholar, Rush said, she could accept Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court "because I take the larger picture."
"I take the approach that the atmosphere of the court ebbs and flows, and I think that's necessary in a way," she said. "It flip-flops over time and I think that's a good thing. I worry less about any given moment and take a more historical point of view."
By the same token, Rush said, "I could accept that he not be confirmed."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Bob Arndorfer can be reached at 352-374-5042 or arndorb@gvillesun.com

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