Clearing up Alito's Record
To the Editor:
One of the most unfortunate aspects of the modern Supreme Court nomination process is the news media's tendency to jam complex legal rulings into a few sensationalist sound bites. In her recent op-ed ("Alito's Disturbing Record," Nov. 2), Danielle Strollo '07 misrepresents every case she highlights by infusing nuanced legal decisions with the language of political hysteria. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for example, the third circuit evaluated a state statute requiring married women to notify their husbands if they wished to obtain an abortion. The quote that Strollo pulls from the case affirms Alito's commitment to judicial restraint in matters of legislative fact-finding and judgment; it does not lay bare Alito's insensitivity to domestic abuse. Contrary to the conclusions drawn by Strollo, Alito explicitly notes in his opinion that women who suffer physical abuse "is a matter of grave concern;" the Pennsylvania legislature, far from ignoring such abuse, specifically included a statutory exemption for women who believe that notifying their husbands might endanger their safety.
Strollo additionally refers to the case Saxe v. State College Area School District, in which Alito helped to strike down an anti-harassment ordinance implemented in a public school. He notes in the opinion that the Supreme Court had recently ruled that hate-speech ordinances -- or speech restrictions banning certain viewpoints from the public dialogue -- constitute constitutionally-proscribable content-based restrictions of free speech. Although public schools might retain authority to ban particularly incendiary hate speech, under established first amendment doctrine, they cannot ban all speech articulating a certain viewpoint.
Strollo next asserts that "Alito also thinks that Congress has no right to regulate a citizen's right to own a machine gun." In fact, in U.S. v. Rybar, Alito recognizes established constitutional limits on congressional power to make non-commerce-related law under the guise of the Commerce Clause. He notes that the federal statute in question would satisfy the demands of the Commerce Clause if Congress simply added a jurisdictional element -- a common feature of federal laws in this field and one that has not posed any noticeable problems for federal law enforcement. Finally, in Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, as Strollo notes, Alito tore down parts of the Family Medical Leave Act -- because the Act violated the eleventh amendment, which provides that states consent to lawsuits brought against them by private parties or groups. Even if one ultimately deems Alito's bench record to be "disturbing," I have faith that followers of the nomination process wish the debate to be honest and fair -- and the facts to be represented accurately.