Senate hearings begin today for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. In 1991, Alito was the lone dissenting federal judge in a case that struck down a Pennsylvania law that required women seeking abortions to notify their spouses. We speak with Kate Michelman, former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, about Alito and her own experience in getting an abortion 1969–before Roe v. Wade–when she had to seek permission from her husband who had abandoned her. [includes rush transcript]
Senate hearings begin today for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito — President Bush’s pick to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.
For the past 15 years Alito has served on the federal appeals court. During the 1980s he worked as an attorney in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Bush originally tapped his personal attorney–White House Counsel Harriet Miers — to replace O’Connor but Miers withdrew her nomination after coming under intense attack from the religious right.
The questioning of Alito is expected to focus largely on his views on abortion, presidential power and civil rights.
In 1991, Alito was the lone dissenting federal judge in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which struck down a Pennsylvania law that required women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.
In a 1985 job application to be assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, he admits that he personally believes "that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."
In that same letter he said he agrees that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed. According to a review of Alito’s judicial record by the People for the American Way, Alito has advocated positions detrimental to civil rights 85 percent of the time in cases where the Third Circuit was divided.
Senators are also expected to question Alito about his views on presidential power–especially in light of President Bush’s decision to order the National Security Agency to conduct domestic spy operations without the legally required court warrants.
Alito has written about warrantless wiretapping before. In 1984–while working in the Reagan administration–he wrote a memo backing the idea of giving President Nixon’s former Attorney General, John Mitchell, absolute immunity for warrantless wiretaps conducted in the 1970s.
A new television ad was launched on Friday by IndependentCourt.org, a coalition of national public interest organizations, that focuses on Alito’s record on privacy rights.
- Ad criticizing Alito’s record on privacy rights.
Alito has also argued for reducing the role of Congress. In the case of United States v. Rybar, he argued Congress exceeded its power in passing a ban on machine guns. While working in the Reagan administration, he once argued Congress went too far when it passed the Truth in Mileage Act which protected consumers from odometer fraud.
Many Supreme Court analysts see the Alito hearings as potentially the most contentious ones in the two decades since the Senate rejected Robert Bork–a Reagan nominee — on the court. Interestingly, the Washington Post reports today that it has unearthed a little noticed 1988 interview of Alito in which he says Bork was "unjustifiably rejected" by the Senate.
Alito said of Bork "He is a man of unequaled ability, understanding of constitutional history, someone who had thought deeply throughout his entire life about constitutional issues and about the Supreme Court and the role it ought to play in American society."
It remains unclear how far Democats might go in trying to block Alito’s confirmation. On Sunday Senators Edward Kennedy and Charles Schumer said they haven’t ruled out staging a filibuster.
The hearings are expected to last until at least Wednesday. Today each of 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to give 10-minute opening statements. Direct questioning of Alito might not begin until tomorrow.
- Kate Michelman, she was head of NARAL Pro-Choice America for nearly 20 years. Her new book, "With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose" was recently published. She will be testifying at the Alito hearings this week.
AMY GOODMAN: A new television ad was launched on Friday by IndependentCourt.org, a coalition of national public interest organizations that focuses on Alito’s record on privacy rights.
INDEPENDENT COURT AD: Washington. The right wing as taken over the West Wing. George Bush gave extremists a veto over Supreme Court nominations, and they chose Samuel Alito. As a judge, Alito ruled to make it easier for corporations to discriminate, even voted to approve the strip search of a ten-year-old girl. As a government lawyer, Alito wrote, "The Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion." The right wing has already taken over the West Wing. Don’t let them take over your Supreme Court.
AMY GOODMAN: Alito has also argued for reducing the role of Congress. In the case of United States v. Rybar, he argued, Congress exceeded its power in passing a ban on machine guns. While working in the Reagan administration, he once argued Congress went too far when it passed the Truth in Mileage Act, which protected consumers from odometer fraud.
Many Supreme Court analysts see the Alito hearings as potentially the most contentious ones in the two decades since the Senate rejected Robert Bork, a Reagan nominee, on the court. Interestingly, The Washington Post reports today that it has unearthed a little noticed 1988 interview of Alito in which he says, Bork was "unjustifiably rejected" by the Senate. Alito said of Bork, "He is a man of unequaled ability, understanding of constitutional history, someone who had thought deeply throughout his entire life about constitutional issues and about the Supreme Court and the role it ought to play in American society."
It remains unclear how far Democrats might go in trying to block Alito’s confirmation. On Sunday, Senators Ted Kennedy and Charles Schumer said they haven’t ruled out staging a filibuster. The hearings are expected to last until at least Wednesday. Today, each of 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to give ten minute opening statements. Direct questioning of Alito might not begin until tomorrow.
We go now to Washington, D.C., to speak with Kate Michelman. She is the former head of NARAL, which is the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and she has just written a new book. It’s called With Liberty and Justice for All. Welcome to Democracy Now!
KATE MICHELMAN: Thank you, Amy. It’s my great pleasure to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. In a little while, we’re going to have a debate on Justice Alito. But I wanted to talk to you about Alito and abortion. Can you lay out your case?
KATE MICHELMAN: Well, you know, your last presentation of this revelation by The Washington Post this morning about Judge Alito’s view of Robert Bork, I think, is very illustrative of what American women, what Americans, in general, face with the possibility of a Justice Alito. Robert Bork was one of the most extraordinary threats to our right to personal privacy, our right to reproductive liberty, our right to individual liberties, in the last couple of decades. And for Judge Alito to note how important it would be to have Robert Bork on the court, I think, speaks volumes about his beliefs.
Judge Alito, I think, represents, again, since Robert Bork, the greatest threat to a woman’s right to choose, a woman’s right to privacy, to personal and individual liberties, since Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. He has repeatedly declared that he believes the Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to reproductive freedom and choice. He’s very proud of his role in the Reagan administration in support of the administration’s repeated attempts to petition the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and to actually overturn a line of privacy rights cases. He has — these are not just personal views, although they are his personal views. They have informed his approach to the law and his decisions.
And I would also say that, you know, Amy, inside Washington, it’s like a parlor game about whether he will overturn Roe or not. I mean, this is not about whether Roe will be overturned or not. While that’s important down the road, what is important here is that this is about the individual rights, the rights of dignity and privacy of American women, and Judge Alito’s approach to the law. His approach to the law is clearly very different from Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the critical fifth decisive vote over the years to protect women’s legal rights, including their right to choose.
Judge Alito’s approach to the law is very different. And when you look at his opinions, it’s hard to see how he understands the reality of women’s lives, the way real people make decisions. His opinion in the Casey decision in Pennsylvania that upheld the right of the state legislature to require women to notify their husbands before having an abortion, treating women like children who need permission from their parents, is an extraordinary window into how he views the law.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Kate Michelman, who is the former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She headed the organization for nearly 20 years and has written the book, With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose. Your story, your book, begins with your own personal story and one that is certainly relevant to the Supreme Court today, the case that they are considering now in New Hampshire around Planned Parenthood, the issue of the consent of the husband when it comes to abortion. Can you talk about your own experience with three little girls?
KATE MICHELMAN: In 1969, I was a stay-at-home Catholic mom of three little girls, and having grown-up in the 1950s, I was, like many women, my values in life were about my family and my ideal, of course, was very much in tune with what other women thought their primary value was, which was to make a good home, be a good mom. And, of course, women feel that way, have felt that way throughout history. In any case, in 1969 my husband abandoned me and my three daughters, really literally left our lives in a very abrupt way. I was forced onto welfare. I had very little resources. We were a couple who would — you know, was concentrating on ensuring that my husband had his career in place. We were just starting out an academic life, and my husband fell in love with another woman and walked out the door, leaving me alone with my three children.
A few weeks after he left, I discovered that I was pregnant again, and this was a very devastating time of my life. It was a time of great turmoil, a time of great fear, a time of a real sort of destruction of what I thought my life was going to be about and, frankly, I had never considered at all, ever, the notion that I would face the choice about whether or not to have an abortion. And to be honest with you, I didn’t know much about the reality of abortion at the time. But my family was in crisis. I was, as I said, on welfare, because I had no resources, and as a Catholic woman, you know, I was confronted with the decision about whether or not to have an abortion, is a very complex, moral and ethical and religious issue for me.
And — but as I thought about it very deeply, I realized that my daughters needed me very much, that I could not introduce another child into the family and ensure that my family survived. And so I made the choice to have an abortion, finding that abortion was illegal in Pennsylvania at the time. And I had a choice between a back-alley abortion, which, I had heard, was devastatingly dangerous. I even had the number of an illegal abortionist that I carried with me at all times.
But I was told by a doctor that I could apply to a hospital for a therapeutic abortion. But to get this therapeutic abortion, I had to be rendered unfit. I had to be medically designated as needing an abortion in order to get this hospital abortion. I went through a hospital board review, a panel of four men, two different interrogations that probed the most intimate details of my life. It was humiliating and degrading. They finally granted me permission to have this therapeutic abortion. And just as I was about to have the procedure, almost, I was told that they had forgotten one more legal requirement, and that was that I needed the permission of my husband.
I was — I said, "You can’t be serious. My husband has left us. I don’t even know where he is." And they said, "That is the law. You need the permission or we cannot do the procedure." I had to leave the hospital and find my husband, who did give me his written permission, but it was a further humiliation and degradation. And so, when Judge Alito, in his opinion in the Casey decision in 1991, you know, wrote that the state requiring women to notify their husbands imposes no burden, no undue burden on women, and what does it matter anyway, because most women do involve their husbands voluntarily, so it would only be a few women who would be affected, I found that, obviously, personally and deeply disturbing, but outraged over his, again, lack of understanding about how these laws impact on the dignity and the self-respect of women and on our rights and our freedoms.
AMY GOODMAN: Kate Michelman, I want to thank you very much for joining us, former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America for nearly 20 years. She writes about her experiences in her book, With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose. She will be testifying at the Alito hearings this week.