Highlighting their concerns with privacy issues, Democrats tapped a freshman congresswoman from Florida to testify Thursday at the Senate hearings on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of two new Jewish members of the House of Representatives, was chosen by the ranking Democratic member of Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, because of her outspoken stance in the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who last year became a symbol of Congress’s overstepping into family matters.
“I certainly think the president has the right to nominate a conservative judge, but not an extremist,” Wasserman Schultz told the Forward during a telephone interview Wednesday, a day before her scheduled testimony. “As someone raising three young kids, I look at his views on privacy and government intrusion as a potential threat to rights my generation enjoys and my children may not.” Citing the example of the Schiavo case, she said: “If Congress overstepped its authority, his record demonstrates he may not have stood in the way of congressional action. That’s unacceptable to most Americans.”
Wasserman Schultz related her concerns about privacy to other issues, as well. A proponent of abortion rights, she said she was skeptical about Alito’s responses during hearings Tuesday to questions on Roe v. Wade and other abortion-related decisions. “He said he was open-minded [on the right to choose],” she said. “That’s what Clarence Thomas said, too. You can’t say you check your opinions at the door of the courtroom.”
Wasserman Schultz said she was troubled by Alito’s responses Tuesday to questions about the recent disclosure that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to listen in on the phone conversations of Americans without a warrant. “He wouldn’t answer the simplest question on that,” she said. “Americans covet their privacy. They zealously guard it,” she said, expressing her worry that Alito “would sanction intrusions into our private lives on a host of issues.”
Jewish communal groups are divided on Alito. The National Council of Jewish Women, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring all oppose Alito, with NCJW and the Reform movement mobilizing their membership around the country to protest his nomination.
Orthodox groups are expressing their own views on Alito. While not endorsing the nominee, the Orthodox Union sent a letter to Judiciary Committee members last week countering the view that Alito’s position on the separation of church and state is outside the mainstream. Alito has been endorsed by the Rabbinical Council of America, which is a union of Modern Orthodox rabbis, and by Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox group.
Several major Jewish groups have chosen not to give Alito an up-or-down vote, maintaining a traditional relctance to endorse presidential nominations. The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League wrote letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee with questions they want Alito to be asked.
The Anti-Defamation League’s letter questions Alito’s support for student-initiated prayer in public school graduation ceremonies, and his position on key civil rights issues.