Today's Papers

Roe Back?

Everybody leads with, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, President Bush “trading a fight with his conservative base for a war with liberals” in the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito. The appeals-court judge is plenty familiar with constitutional law, has plenty of conservative cred, and a years-long record of decisions to prove both. Which is why liberal groups quickly unloaded and conservative groups reacted, well, as one Republican activist explained, “it’s like a combination of a wedding reception, Super Bowl party, and bar mitzvah.”

Alito’s best-known decision came just a year after his appointment to the federal bench in 1990, when he dissented in a decision that overturned a Pennsylvania law requiring women to notify their husbands before getting abortions. The Supreme Court later affirmed that the statute was unconstitutional and in the process affirmed Roe v. Wade. The Los Angeles Timeshas particularly strong coverage on the case and suggests it shouldn’t be read as a stalking horse for Roe v. Wade.

That case aside, the papers all paint a similar picture of Alito: He’s a small-“c” conservative in terms of process—he is not a flamethrower, at least rhetorically. But when it comes to outcomes, he’s mostly a big-“c” conservative: For instance, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick details, Alito has questioned portions of the Family Leave Act as well as the government’s power to regulate machine guns. He has also tended to look askance at convicts’ pleas for federal redress of their cases.

In a Washington Postop-ed, liberal law prof Cass Sunstein chronicles Alito’s “almost uniformly conservative” ledger of dissents, particularly in terms of civil rights. 

But nicknames aside, Alito has apparently set himself apart from ideologues like, say, Justice Scalia. Alito’s decision on the Family Leave Act, says the New York Times, was “well supported by the existing precedents.” Alito also once overturned a New Jersey ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, arguing it didn’t include an exemption for the life of the mother. Time magazine also found (or was handed) a case where Alito was dressed down by Scalia.Oh, and he’s a really nice, really smart guy.

Everybody notes that Alito’s chances depend largely on the so-called Group of 14, the bipartisan crew of senators whose deal earlier this year put off a filibuster showdown. The Post focuses on the bind—and serious bargaining position—the roughly half-dozen pro-choice Republican senators are in. Judiciary Committee chair, and pro-choice proponent, Sen. Arlen Specter chatted with Alito and said he was comforted by the nominee’s talk about the right to privacy. The LAT also quotes Specter saying he wasn’t too bothered by Alito’s abortion ruling, which was “very narrow.” Meanwhile, ostensible-Republican Sen. Chafee said Alito’s nomination “raises many concerns.” There are 55 Republican senators; 60 votes are needed to stop a filibuster.

As for the timing of the nomination, it did not have the immediate effect the White House might have been hoping for. The NYT: “Six and a half hours after Mr. Bush made the announcement, most of the questions at the daily White House news briefing focused on the continuing leak investigation.”

Most of the papers reefer the military’s announcement that seven GIs in Iraq have been killed by roadside bombings in the last two days, making October the fourth-deadliest month of the war. About 20 Iraqis were killed by a car bomb in the southern city of Basra. The Post says the bomb hit a shopping area of “ice cream stands and other roadside stalls,” which became “littered with body parts.”

Everybody gives front-page play to the U.N. Security Council, in a unanimous vote, telling Syria it will face “further action” unless it cooperates with the investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Yes, there’s a bit of fudging in there.The whole council, including Algeria, only signed on after explicit threats of economic sanctions were excised (though they can still be invoked in the future).

The WP gives front-page play to the roughly three dozen suicide attempts at Gitmo; one prisoner slashed his wrist two weeks ago while his lawyer was visiting. At least two dozen prisoners are on hunger strike protesting their indefinite detention. Meanwhile, the Post mentions that the U.S. said U.N. observers are welcome to visit but aren’t welcome to speak privately with detainees.

Everybody mentions Vice President Cheney picking two aides to replace the now-indicted Scooter Libby. Both were questioned in the leak investigation. Last month the Post reported that one “has told friends he … is worried he may be implicated by the investigation.” According to Knight Ridder, that aide was also the White House’s point man for the stove-piped intel from Iraqi exiles that turned out to be bogus. Among the other aide’s accomplishments: co-authoring some of the “torture memos.”

Speaking of Cheney, the NYT’s Nick Kristof tries public shaming, “Come on, Mr. Vice President, tell us what happened”:

A federal indictment charges that criminality swirled around your office, and it demeans this administration and the entire country when you hide in your bunker and refuse to say whether you knew of any such activities. Five lawyers I’ve consulted all agree that there is no compelling legal reason why you should not discuss the situation.”

Hey, news pages: Is Kristof right? If so, perhaps some follow-up?