Author Topic: Landrieu knocks court nominee - Analysts say stance may backfire on her  (Read 466 times)

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Title: Landrieu knocks court nominee - Analysts say stance may backfire on her
Author: Bill Walsh
Date: 11/01/2005
Source: The Times-Picayune

WASHINGTON -- U.S. District Judge Samuel Alito's career "raises questions" about whether he would put legal principles ahead of partisan ideology as a Supreme Court justice, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Monday.

"As I have said before, Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor should be succeeded by a justice who, like her, will inspire our nation and embody the fundamental American values of freedom, equality and fairness -- someone who will put the principles of law ahead of partisan ideology," Landrieu said in a statement released shortly after President Bush announced Alito's nomination. "Judge Alito's career of accomplishment speaks to his experience, but also raises questions as to whether he meets this standard and possesses the qualities necessary for a member of the nation's highest court."

Landrieu did not provide specifics about her concerns about Alito. She did say that "the Senate owes the people a fair and thorough confirmation process."

Landrieu's assessment is noteworthy because she is a member of the so-called "Gang of 14," the bipartisan group of senators that brokered a compromise on Bush's federal court nominees and is likely to be pivotal in any close nomination fight.

Battle heats up

Landrieu's statement contrasted with that of Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who said Alito possesses a "well-grounded judicial philosophy -- just what so many, including me, consider most important."

The difference in tone may be an indication of the fight ahead. Even before Bush made it official Monday morning, the special-interest machinery in Washington was in high gear over reports of Alito's nomination.

The Democratic National Committee said Alito threatened minority and civil rights and the National Organization of Women staged a protest on the steps of the Supreme Court proclaiming, "We are ready for a fight." The American Conservative Union and Committee for Justice praised the pick and the Christian Coalition vowed to put 2 million members to work to support the nomination.

Political experts say a divisive confirmation fight could be especially dicey for Landrieu, whose electoral base was splintered in the evacuations from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Hundreds of thousands of voters fled the New Orleans area, Landrieu's home base, and it is unclear how many of them will return before she is up for election in 2008. Pollster Verne Kennedy estimated that if just 3 percent of Louisiana's African-American voters, a core constituency of the Democratic Party, decide not to return, close statewide contests are likely to tip to the Republicans. Others agreed.

"Take out the (evacuated) Lower 9th Ward, which is all black, and she loses both elections," Southern University political scientist Albert Samuels said of Landrieu's narrow Senate victories in 1996 and 2002. "The hurricane definitely changed the calculus. It raises the stakes for her on a lot of upcoming issues, like this Supreme Court nomination."

As a Democrat from a state that voted twice for Bush, Landrieu's Democratic colleagues give her latitude to cross party lines when she sees fit.

Landrieu has supported most of Bush's federal court nominees. On the controversial picks, she has a split record. She supported Texas judge Priscilla Owens to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and John Roberts to chief justice of the Supreme Court. She voted against appellate court nominees Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor, emphasizing her concerns about their views on civil rights.

Views of rights draw fire

Alito's record suggests that he supports restrictions on abortion, which has alarmed liberal interest groups but isn't likely to cause much of a furor in a conservative state such as Louisiana. From a political perspective, his views on civil rights are likely to be far more decisive to Landrieu because they could serve as a barometer of how her core supporters would react.

The Center for American Progress noted his dissent in a 1997 case in which a black hotel manager sued Marriott Hotels alleging race discrimination. The majority in the case chastised Alito for an opinion it said allowed for "conscious racial bias" in hiring. In a 2004 search-and-seizure case, Alito wrote a dissenting opinion upholding the right of police to strip-search a drug suspect's wife and 10-year-old daughter. In a 1991 disability discrimination case, the majority said that the views expressed by Alito in his dissent were so restrictive that "few, if any cases would survive summary judgment."

Still, LSU political scientist Robert Hogan said that by 2008, Landrieu's base will be more worried about hurricane recovery than civil rights of a single judicial nominee -- even one for the Supreme Court. On the other hand, Hogan said that Landrieu would almost certainly incur the wrath of conservative voters, such as those in north Louisiana, if she voted against Alito now.

"It seems to me that by voting against Alito, Landrieu has little to gain and much to lose," Hogan said.
. . . . . . .
Bill Walsh can be reached at bill.walsh@newhouse.com or (202) 383-7817.

POSTER'S COMMENTS:
Just what is Vitter's conservative judicial philosophy? I think Landrieu is on drugs. The Senate owes the people nothing more than their loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, not their version of a fair and thorough confirmation process.
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