Thursday, January 12, 2006

Getting By With A Little Help From His Friends

Looking over the itinerary today for the Alito Republican coronation/Democratic judicial hearing, I couldn't help but notice that one of the witnesses on the docket for today jumped right out at me. Peter Kirsanow is scheduled to testify in support of Alito today, so I thought it would be interesting to review a little bit about Mr. Kirsanow. The Republicans are counting on Alito gaining some favor with the ultra-conservatives by associating with an ideologue like Kirsanow, since you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. So what can we learn of Judge Alito by looking at his friend? Plenty.

First of all, a little background on Mr. Kirsanow is in order:

When Peter Kirsanow was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Bush in December 2001, the Commission's Chairperson told the White House that it would take federal marshals to seat Mr. Kirsanow. The majority on the Commission fought his appointment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justice Department prevailed in its lawsuit to seat Mr. Kirsanow, and he became a member of the Commission in May 2002.

Kirsanow was a recess appointment (big surprise, coming from Bush) and was an egregiously poor choice for the position. Appointing Kirsanow smacked of more Rovian political tactics; appoint a an extreme rightwing ideologue to a commission safeguarding civil rights. Given Alito's writings in opposition to women's rights and the rights of individuals to seek redress against business interests, Kirsanow seems an appropriate character witness. Kirsanow has been a vehement opponent of organized labor, women's reproductive rights and affirmative action.

Here is Kirsanow, in an interview with Citizens For Individual Freedom, a conservative activist group supporting the Alito nomination. He's speaking with Renee Giachino, general counsel for CFIF:

GIACHINO: Let me ask you about one other article that I recently read. This one by Cynthia Tucker, who is also a well-regarded columnist. She recently wrote an article titled "Civil Rights in danger if Bush is re-elected." Recognizing that you are not speaking on behalf of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, but that you are one of the Commissioners, what is your opinion of what she has written, that being that the fate of the U.S. Supreme Court, which we all know to be the case" that is that at least four of the Justices could retire during the next term or face some other unfortunate event, and she writes that if President Bush is re-elected "his Court could turn back the clock on the individual rights Americans take for granted." Do you agree or disagree?

KIRSANOW: I disagree vehemently. With all due respect to Ms. Tucker, who I think is very well respected, that is just tremendous hyperbole. I have seen that in a lot of other places and using the fact or the term "turning back the clock." If anyone is a historian of the Court, I would like to see under what circumstances, other than perhaps Dred Scott and a few others, where any clocks have been turned back. And, in fact, I think we have a court system, a legislative system and executive branch that are all committed to civil rights, and, in fact, we have a multi-billion dollar apparatus in place to insure that civil rights are protected. All we see and have seen for the last 50 years is an expansion of those civil rights and the protection thereof. I think it verges on irresponsible to make a comment like that.

While Kirsanow may be right that no "clocks have been turned back", I think that plays right into the heart of why conservatives want a Justice like Alito. They want the clock turned back on issues such as women's rights, affirmative action and separation of church and state. It's true that we've seen an expansion of civil rights over the past 50 years but that's because of liberal activism and ideology, in spite of conservative push-back. In terms of the power of the Executive, I agree also with Kirsanow that we haven't turned back the clock, nor do I believe that Alito on the Supreme Court will do so. An Alito Court will take Executive power somewhere it's never been; a radicalization that bears little resemblance to the Executive defined in the Constitution.

Finally, the issue of detainees from the "War on Terror" is one that Alito is likely to face as a Supreme Court Justice. Kirsanow, this conservative testifying for the character and judicial philosophy of Alito, had some interesting things to say about civil rights in a time of war.

[Kirsanow's] response to the testimony in Detroit from Arab-American representatives [who were complaining of civil rights violations following 9/11] was to argue they should support Bush's anti-terrorism program and stop complaining on the grounds that another terror attack linked to Arabs or Muslims would result in far harsher measures.

Should terrorists carry out another attack, he told the meeting, "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights."

Setting aside what a fascist and obtuse thing that is for a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to say, this clearly illustrates the conservative mind-set towards the War on Terror. They believe this is a global crusade of American Christians against Arab Muslims, and collateral damage doesn't even enter the picture. This is why such conservative luminaries as Michelle Malkin feel comfortable writing in favor of the Japanese interment camps. They believe stripping American citizens of their rights is an acceptable practice. If such a man as Kirsanow is willing to say so, and he's being called to represent the views of Judge Alito, then it is impossible to infer other than that Alito believes the same, along with the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

People are often judged by the company they keep, and if Peter Kirsanow is any indication, then Alito is clearly not fit for a seat on the highest institution dedicated to protecting American liberties.

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