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Samuel Alito shows well in polls; Americans consider ‘judicial activism’ a real crisis


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Americans seem to be pleased, if not content, with President George W. Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Sandra Day O’ Connor.

A USA Today/CNN Gallup poll released Nov. 2 revealed that 43 percent of those polled said the president’s choice for the high court is excellent or good while 22 percent described him as “fair.” Most respondents said Judge Alito’s views on “important issues” are “mainstream,” and an overwhelming number said that nominating a man to replace a woman on the court is not an issue.

The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission believes most Americans see Alito’s nomination as a refutation of an activist judiciary that legislates from the bench instead of interpreting the law.

“We need to have a reining in of what we consider to be a runaway federal judiciary that is seeking to impose its will on the American people,” said Richard Land Nov. 1 on the ABC Evening News program.

The Gallup poll found that only 17 percent of Americans said Alito is a “poor” nominee. Yet 51 percent of those contacted said Alito’s views were in sync with mainstream thought; only 26 percent said his perspectives were “too extreme.” Despite what some early critics of the nomination have said, only 21 percent of those polled said it bothered them that Bush did not nominate a woman to fill the seat now held by O’Connor. When asked if they were “convinced that Alito would vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision,” support for the nominee dropped to 37 percent.

Judge Alito is known for his “judicial restraint,” according to various news reports. In the questionnaire he submitted to the U.S. Senate as they weighed his nomination to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1990, he detailed his view on this flashpoint issue.


“While courts should use all proper judicial remedies to correct violations of the law, the courts must ensure that they do not step over the line into the fields of lawmaking or governmental administration, where the judiciary generally lacks both authority and expertise,” Alito wrote, as reported by the Associated Press Oct. 31.

In a related development, several prominent legal experts reported surprise over the results of another poll that gauged Americans views on judicial activism. The survey, conducted for the American Bar Association Journal eReport, revealed 58 percent of Americans polled agreed that “judicial activism” is a crisis and that “judges routinely overrule the will of the people” and “ignore traditional morality.”

Mark V. Tushnet, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, told the ABA Journal eReport, “These are surprisingly large numbers.” He said the results were at odds with what he had perceived as a “significantly higher residue of general respect for the courts.”

Sen. Ben Nelson, D.-Neb., said Nov. 2 that Alito promised him he intends to rule on the court “without a political agenda.” Nelson is one of the centrist “Gang of 14” senators who brokered a deal that took filibusters of judicial nominees off the table, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” The move effectively defused a Republican threat to unleash a “constitutional option” that would have altered Senate rules to forestall a filibuster by the minority.

Nelson told the Associated Press he was confident Alito would not be a “judicial activist.”