Well Alito was confirmed 58-42 – a respectable margin. I became an Alito fan when I exchanged e-mails with him about 3 months ago when all this started. He is a real central New Jersey guy who grew up in Hamilton Township which is about 10 miles from where I last lived in the US. I know the area and I know the people and Alito is the kind of person I like. My family has known NY area Italians for generations and as far as I can see Alito is typical of the hardworking, honest Italian-Americans that have contributed so much to our country. So at a personal level I just wanted to see him confirmed. I also have read what his colleagues and employees have said about his fairness, work ethic, and general dedication to his profession. I just can’t get exercised about this kind of person being on the Supreme Court. I understand that his appointment means a change to a conservative majority, but that is the way our country works. Americans have been moving to the right for years and they have elected a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses. Eventually this shift flows through to the Supreme Court, but because of lifetime appointments, not elections, the Supreme Court is usually the slowest to change. I also believe that the Supreme Court is supposed to change in just this way. But Alito doesn’t even strike me as the kind of judge who will make big changes because he is legally conservative – respectful of precedent – which is different from being politically conservative or liberal.
There seems to be little appreciation on either side of this debate that a good judge doesn’t decide things simply because of ideology or even on their past writings where they are free to express their ideological beliefs. They decide things on the basis of the law too. In the SCOTUS particularly its a balancing act between strictly following precedent and changing the law through interpretation. The point is not to stray too far in either direction. If you follow the law blindly you end up hanging people you really shouldn’t which is the dilemma that Melville explored in Billy Bud. If you are too ready to interpret to law in the search of what you believe is greater justice you erode the strength and clarity of the law and you can end up with courts that discriminate against people the court or the government don’t like. The first such court that tried to soften the strictures of the common law was the infamous Star Chamber. Alito is a blue state conservative with impressive qualifications. I don’t think it is at all clear how he will vote – he may surprise all of us – but I am highly confident that he will justify however he votes with sound legal argument. That is all I expect from SCOTUS judges and all I will expect from judges appointed by the next Democratic president.

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