Strike one for Samuel Alito: Women’s rights on an 0-1 count

by Amy Kingsley

Soon after President Bush’s nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers for associate Supreme Court Justice tanked, the president trotted out a new candidate ‘— Samuel Alito.

At first blush, Alito is everything that Miers is not, an appellate court judge for the Third Circuit with no apparent personal connections to the president and scores of authored legal opinions.

Alito’s most famous legal opinion was the single dissenting vote in a case that involved upholding a part of a Pennsylvania law requiring wives to notify their husbands if they are planning an abortion.

Alito, a Catholic, is avowedly pro-life, so the charitable interpretation of this decision would be to chalk it up to those leanings. People of good conscience can and have disagreed on abortion since it was legalized in 1973.

It is the implication of the husband’s authority over his wife that is most disturbing in his dissent. Sandra Day O’Connor, the justice whom Alito will replace, authored the Supreme Court decision overturning the rule along with Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. Their words best capture the alarming implication of such a law:

‘“The husband’s interest in the life of the child his wife is carrying does not permit the State to empower him with this troubling degree of authority over his wife’… A husband has no enforceable right to require a wife to advise him before she exercises her personal choices’… A State may not give to a man the kind of dominion over his wife that parents exercise over their children.’”

University of Houston professor Robert Carp led a study of Bush’s judicial appointments in his first term that revealed those sent to the bench under our current leader have been the most conservative class of judges in the last half century. The study, published in the summer 2004 issue of Judicature, specifically pointed out gaps in decisions about civil rights and civil liberties.

Couple that study with Alito’s clear indifference to women’s rights and at least half the population has reason to be concerned.

Newspaper profiles tout Alito’s strong intellect and methodical conservative reasoning. We do not doubt either of these traits.

Perhaps the president cannot find a female nominee with the qualifications to replace Justice O’Connor, a reliable swing vote on abortion who was appointed by President Reagan. But the least he can do is appoint a man with a reasonable respect for the equal rights of grown women. In their opinion, O’Connor, Souter and Kennedy extended Alito’s reasoning:

‘“Perhaps next in line would be a statute requiring pregnant married women to notify their husbands before engaging in conduct causing risks to the fetus. After all, if the husband’s interest in the fetus’ safety is a sufficient predicate for state regulation, the State could reasonably conclude that pregnant wives should notify their husbands before drinking alcohol or smoking. Perhaps married women should notify their husbands before using contraceptives or before undergoing any type of surgery that may have complications affecting the husband’s interest in his wife’s reproductive organs’… Women do not lose their constitutionally protected liberty when they marry.’”