Mr. President, I rise today to state my opposition to the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Unites States Supreme Court. After thoroughly reviewing Judge Alito’s record during his time on the federal bench, I am left with grave and serious concerns about his views on the power and scope of Executive Branch authority, discrimination against parents in the workplace, his general disposition toward cases involving civil rights, and his views on the scope of voter rights.
Because of these concerns, I can not in good conscience support his nomination to the Supreme Court to replace Sandra Day O’Connor.
Over the course of Judge Samuel Alito’s career and his tenure on the federal bench, he has compiled a troubling record of personal statements and court decisions that signal his willingness to defer authority to the Executive Branch when questions of presidential powers are deliberated before the Supreme Court.
I strongly believe that our Constitution calls for an independent and co-equal Judicial Branch that provides a check on the government’s power to encroach upon our individual rights. At a time when many Arkansans have expressed concerns over the President’s legal authority to eavesdrop on Americans without court supervision and detain U.S. citizens without judicial review or due process, I cannot support a Supreme Court nominee who has repeatedly failed to uphold reasonable limits of presidential authority at the expense of constitutional liberties.
This issue is especially significant because Judge Alito would replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who recently ruled in a 2004 case on executive authority that "a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."
While the Legislative and Executive branches of government are, by their very nature, political, we demand our Judicial Branch be above that. When one party controls both of the political branches, the independence of the Judiciary is especially important. Our founders created our country and its government with the memories of tyranny still fresh in their minds. The Judicial branch was given exceptional authority for the specific reason that it provides a critical check on the two political branches of our government.
This is not to say that the Judicial branch is charged with correcting the perceived wrongs of the party in power. It is simply charged with upholding the constitution and the rights guaranteed to citizens under it. Upholding this requirement is the most important duty the court is given. If a potential nominee to the Supreme Court can not or will not uphold either part of this solemn duty, his or her appointment will serve to undermine the fundamental system of checks and balances on which our government depends.
Of equal concern is Judge Alito’s record on the issue of discrimination in the workplace. In Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, Judge Alito’s statement that the Family Medical Leave Act was a "disproportionate solution" to the problem of workplace discrimination is deeply troubling. In an opinion rejecting the position of Judge Alito, Chief Justice Rehnquist explicitly noted that common workplace practices had been discriminatory toward both men and women by reinforcing the role of women as the sole domestic care giver.
I fear that Judge Alito’s inability to recognize this type of discrimination threatens dire consequences for rights hard won by women over the last few decades. The majority of our nation’s families depend on income from both parents just to get by. The future and strength of our nation depends on the strength of the fabric that our families are made of. I can not in good conscience vote to allow any of the gains that have allowed women to become an integral part of our nation’s workforce while remaining exceptional mothers to their children to be rolled back.
As his record points out, Judge Alito has consistently set an unfairly high burden of proof in discrimination cases leading him to rule consistently against Americans who are merely attempting to assert their basic constitutional rights. Judge Alito’s philosophy of deferring to the government and those in positions of authority threatens to undermine many of the laws established by Congress to ensure that discrimination does not prevent anyone from realizing his or her full potential.
Also of concern are Judge Alito’s comments on voter rights. He has stated his interest in constitutional law was motivated largely by his disagreements with the Supreme Court reapportionment decision that established the principle of "one person, one vote." This landmark case became a cornerstone of our democracy by ensuring that everyone’s vote would be weighted equally, regardless of an individual’s economic background, their address, or the color of their skin.
If an individual is prevented from seeking a fair remedy at the ballot box by denial of his basic right to vote, the only avenue he has left is our Judicial system. Judge Alito’s skepticism of established principles of voter rights coupled with his skepticism of claims relating to discrimination is a dangerous combination that threatens to exclude many Americans from full and equal participation in their government and society. Equal access to the ballot box is a right guaranteed to every American that is the very foundation of democracy. These rights came after much work and incredible sacrifice and to me they are too important to put at risk.
As I stated during the debate on Chief Justice Robert’s nomination, considering a Supreme Court nomination is one of the most important duties we are called upon as Senators to fulfill. I did not come to my decision on Judge Alito’s nomination lightly.
Ultimately, I supported the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts because I sincerely believed he cared more about the rule of law and our nation’s judicial system than he did about ideology or political parties. I sincerely regret I cannot draw the same conclusion about Judge Alito.
For me, this nomination is not about a single issue or controversy. It is much more important than that. This nomination is about the rights and freedoms we cherish as Americans.
It is about the future course of our nation and the impact the decisions of the Supreme Court will have on the citizens of this great land. I feel government has a commitment to those amongst us who face incredible challenges to ensure that the values we all hold dear as Americans apply equally to them. I have real doubts about Judge Alito’s views on the role of government in protecting those rights. I respect the opinions of my constituents and colleagues on both sides of this issue but in the end I made the decision that I believe is in the best interests of my state and my country.
I appreciate the time and attention of my colleagues and I yield the floor.