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By SARA BERGQUIST sbe007@latech



Last week Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr. faced an exhausting series of tough questioning from the Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“The party in opposition is going to try in some way to exploit the process to harm the other party,” Brian Etheridge, a professor of history, said.

“So I think that what the Democrats are doing with Alito is extremely common in terms of trying to use these hearings as a way to attack the Republican Party [because] obviously the appointee is someone that the executives would like to see on the bench.”

Before Alito, the last Supreme Court member to be appointed was John Roberts, who was named chief justice in September 2005.

Etheridge said Roberts, who was a Federal Appeals Court judge and a solid conservative Republican, did not face as tough of an inquiry as Alito currently is.  

“I think [Roberts] seemed invincible; he was extremely good at answering questions but also very charming,” Etheridge said. “It was very hard for them to pin him down. I think most Democrats regarded him as a good appointment.”

Eric Pardue, a graduate student of history and president of the College Republicans, said he is more caught up on Alito’s situation than he was with Roberts’s hearing.

“I think this process is extremely significant, particularly since this is an election year,” Pardue said. “Votes on Alito and Roberts will have strong implications for candidates this fall.”

Pardue also said he does not think the nomination process is necessarily tailor-made for Americans to keep informed on the nominee and the process.

“[The hearings] allow time for senators and their staffs to gather information to form an opinion on the nominee in an effort to provide sound justification for their vote on the nominee during the advice and consent portion of the nomination of a new justice,” Pardue said.

“The past two days and the upcoming ones were nothing more than stages for the senators to take shots at the nominee and generally just deliver grandiose statements to motivate their bases.”

Richard Sisson, a senior political science and journalism major and a Democrat, said he thinks Alito’s confirmation is inevitable.

“His judicial philosophy will send the Supreme Court on a shift which will gravely affect women and minority rights,” Sisson said.

“This could shift balance of power among the three branches which espouses a ‘unitary executive.’”

Sandra Day O’Connor will soon step down, but she has agreed to stay until she is replaced.

Etheridge, however, said he is not worried about a vacancy in the Supreme Court.

“I think that would be the case if [Alito] is not confirmed, but from what I have read, it’s going to be very hard for the Democrats to knock him,” Etheridge said.

“The impression that I get is that the Democrats are fumbling and stumbling, not really taking advantage of the opportunities that they might have.”

Etheridge said more Democrats have shown a concern about Alito’s track record, who will not rule on the law but will try to politicize the whole process.

Etheridge also said he thinks there are certain segments of the American population that are very concerned and care very deeply about this process.

“I think that the Christian evangelicals are very involved,” Etheridge said.

“They were the ones who were the [ones who were] against Harriet Meyers’ nomination because they believed that she was not one of [the Christian evangelicals], and they believe that Alito is.”

Etheridge said the evangelical elements of the American population are extremely well mobilized and very active.

“It’s a big deal; it’s for life,” Etheridge said.

“In some way, the conservatives would argue that there is nothing more important that [President George W. Bush] will ever do in his administration because they serve for so long, and the after-effects of these [appointments] last for decades.”

Etheridge also said there are some people who have not followed the hearing closely.

“Those groups of Americans who are not politically aware don’t understand how this could affect their lifestyle,” Etheridge said. “They just see it as something happening in Washington and watch it from a distance.” 

Etheridge said a social issue that might arise in the future if Alito takes a position on the Supreme Court could be abortion rights.

“[Democrats in the nomination committee] have tried to pin him on the issue,” Etheridge said.

“They have asked him questions such as, ‘Is Roe v. Wade super precedent?,’ which means that it is so important that it is much harder to overturn than previous cases, and Alito was not willing to say that.”

“So people who are pro-choice are saying that he might try to change the stance or interpretation of the constitution as far as abortion is concerned. Pro-life people certainly don’t see that as the case,” he said.

Etheridge said smaller issues that could surface might be teaching evolution and prayer in schools.

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