December 22, 2005

Civil Rights Group Opposes Judge Alito's Nomination

Earlier this month, the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), a civil rights organization that "works to advance the human and civil rights of Asian Americans through advocacy, public policy, public education, and litigation," issued a press release announcing its opposition to the nomination of Judge Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. AAJC's reasoning:
As a deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan, Judge Alito argued that certain non-citizens are not entitled to the protections offered by the U.S. Constitution. Judge Alito also raised opposition to the Supreme Court decisions that first articulated the fundamental civil rights principle of “one person, one vote.”
My concern is not the position taken by AAJC, but the failure of the organization to substantively explain or defend it. That is, in its statement, AAJC does not spell out the allegedly questionable arguments made by Judge Alito (thus preventing the public from independently assessing the merits of these arguments), let alone describe how such legal judgments disqualify Judge Alito from service on the Supreme Court.

AAJC similarly ignores opinions in which Judge Alito ruled in favor of plaintiffs alleging discrimination (see, e.g., Fraternal Order of Police, Newark, Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark, 170 F.3d 359 (3rd Cir. 1999) (holding that a police department's policy, which prohibited employees from wearing beards, had an exception for medical reasons, but admitted no exception for religious beliefs, violates the First Amendment); Shore Reg’l High Sch. Bd. of Educ. v. P.S., 381 F.3d 194 (3rd Cir. 2004) (holding that a school district failed to provide a free and appropriate public education to a student who was subjected to “severe and prolonged harassment” on account of the student’s perceived sexual orientation and apparent athletic inadequacy)).

Despite these and other cases, AAJC's deputy director of programs states, "based on Judge Alito’s record, we believe that his decisions would fail to demonstrate a clear understanding of key issues important to the civil rights community," again with no recitation of the relevant aspects of the record.

AAJC's conclusory statements do nothing to enrich the discussion regarding whether Judge Alito should be confirmed as an associate justice. If AAJC said case x demonstrates that Judge Alito is hostile to civil rights and that the analysis offered in that case is troublesome with respect to the nomination for reason y, others would be able to evaluate the strength of this argument and perhaps offer counter-arguments as to both x and y. Rather than advance the state of the debate, AAJC performed no public service in issuing this press release. If anything, it only serves to reveal AAJC's naked opposition to this nomination.

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Many thanks to Curt for inviting me to participate on this blog. I hope my entries will be of some value. As others have stated, I join this online community as an individual interested in the judiciary and the rule of law, not as an endorser of the CFJ. To briefly introduce myself, I'm a Sikh civil rights attorney and the co-director of the Discrimination and National Security Initiative, an affiliate of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University.

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