On Abortion Rights: Schumer v. Alito
Here's Schumer asking Alito to compare his views today to the anti-choice opinion he held in 1985:
SCHUMER: Judge Alito, in 1985, you wrote that the Constitution -- these are your words -- does not protect a right to an abortion. You said to Senator Specter a long time ago, I think it was about 9:30 this morning, 9:45, that those words accurately reflected your view at the time.
Now let me ask you: Do they accurately reflect your view today? Do you stand by that statement? Do you disavow it? Do you embrace it?
It's OK if you distance yourself from it, and it's fine if you embrace it. We just want to know your view.
ALITO: Senator, it was an accurate statement of my views at the time. That was in 1985.
And I made it from my vantage point as an attorney in the Solicitor General's Office, but it was an expression of what I thought at that time.
If the issue were to come before me as a judge, if I'm confirmed and if this issue were to come up, the first question that would have to be addressed is the question of stare decisis, which I've discussed earlier and it's a very important doctrine. And that was the starting point and the ending point of the joint opinion in Casey.
And then if I were to get beyond that, if the court were to get beyond the issue of stare decisis, then I would have to go through the whole judicial decision-making process before reaching a conclusion.
SCHUMER: But, sir, I am not asking you about stare decisis. I'm not asking you about cases.
I'm asking you about this: the United States Constitution. As far as I know, it's the same as it was in 1985 with the exception of the 27th Amendment, which has nothing to do with what we're talking about.
Regardless of case law, in 1985, you stated -- you stated it proudly, unequivocally, without exception -- that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.
Do you believe that now?
SCHUMER: I'm not asking about case law. I'm not asking about stare decisis. I'm asking your view about this document and whether what you stated in 1985 you believe today; you changed your view; you've distanced your view?
You can give me a direct answer. It doesn't matter which way you answer, but I think it's important that you answer that question.
ALITO: Answer to the question is that I would address that issue in accordance with the judicial process as I understand it and as I have practiced it.
That's the only way I can answer that question.
SCHUMER: Sir, I'm not asking for the process. Obviously, you'd use a judicial mindframe. You've been a judge for 15 years.
I'm asking you -- you stated what you believe the Constitution contained. You didn't say the Constitution as interpreted by this or that. You didn't say the constitution with this exception or that exception.
It was a statement you made directly. You made it proudly. You said you're particularly proud of that personal belief that you had. You still believe it.
ALITO: And, Senator, I would make up my mind on that question if I got to it, if I got past the issue of stare decisis after going through the whole process that I have described.
I would need to know the case that is before me and I would have to consider the arguments and they might be different arguments from the arguments that were available in 1985.
SCHUMER: But, sir, I'm not asking you about case law. Now, maybe you read a case and it changed your view of the Constitution.
I'm asking you -- and not about the process you've used -- I'm asking you about your view of the Constitution because, as we all know, and we're going to talk about stare decisis in a few minutes, that if somebody believes, a judge, especially a Supreme Court justice, that something is unconstitutional, even though stare decisis is on the books, governs the way you are and there's precedent on the books for decades, it's still important to know your view of what the Constitution contains.
And let me just say, a few hours ago, in this same memo -- I can't remember who asked the question -- but you backed off one of the statements you had written. You said it was inapt, which taught me something. I didn't know that there was a word that was inapt.
But you said that it was inapt to have written that the elected branches are supreme. So, you discussed your view on that issue without reference to case law because there was no reference to case law when you wrote it. There was no reference to case law when you wrote this.
Can you tell us your view just one more time, your view about the Constitution not protecting the right to an abortion, which you have talked about before? And you said you personally, proudly held that view. Can you?
ALITO: The question about the statement about the supremacy of the elected branches of government went to my understanding of the constitutional structure of our country.
And so certainly that's a subject that it is proper for me to talk about. But the only way you are asking me how I would decide an issue...
SCHUMER: No, I'm not. I'm asking you what you believes in the Constitution.
ALITO: Well, you're asking me my view of a question that...
SCHUMER: I'm not asking about a question. I'm asking about the Constitution, in all due respect, and something you wrote about...
ALITO: The Constitution contains the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment. It provides protection for liberty. It provides substantive protection. And the Supreme Court has told us what the standard is for determining whether something falls within the scope of those protections.
SCHUMER: Does the Constitution protect the right to free speech?
ALITO: Certainly it does. That's in the First Amendment.
SCHUMER: So why can't you answer the question of: Does the Constitution protect the right to an abortion the same way without talking about stare decisis, without talking about cases, et cetera?
ALITO: Because answering the question of whether the Constitution provides a right to free speech is simply responding to whether there is language in the First Amendment that says that the freedom of speech and freedom of the press can't be abridged. Asking about the issue of abortion has to do with the interpretation of certain provisions of the Constitution.
SCHUMER: Well, OK. I know you're not going to answer the question. I didn't expect really that you would, although I think it would be important that you would. I think it's part of your obligation to us that you do, particularly that you stated it once before so any idea that you're approaching this totally fresh without any inclination or bias goes by the way side.
But I do have to tell you, Judge, you're refusal I find troubling. And it's sort as if I asked a friend of mine 20 years ago -- a friend of mine 20 years ago said to me, he said, you know, I really can't stand my mother-in-law. And a few weeks ago I saw him and I said, "Do you still hate your mother-in-law?"
He said, "Well, I'm now married to her daughter for 21 years, not one year."
I said, "No, no, no. Do you still hate your mother-in-law?"
And he said, "I can't really comment."
What do you think I'd think?
ALITO: Senator, I think...
SCHUMER: Let me just move on.