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WMU experts offer views on Alito nomination

Jan. 12, 2006

KALAMAZOO--Two Western Michigan University faculty experts have offered views on the current confirmation process for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito, who has been nominated to fill the seat now occupied by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Washington Post staffers turned to WMU's Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten, who is in the middle of research on appellate court cases, for an analysis of Alito's judicial record that was published in the Post's Sunday, Jan. 1, edition. With the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, Kuersten, a WMU associate professor of political science, and Dr. Susan Haire of the University of Georgia, have been compiling the records of court decisions from the U.S. Court of Appeals.

"Our data from the National Science Foundation grant demonstrated that during Alito's 15 years on the bench, he has been extremely sympathetic to prosecutors, skeptical of immigrants trying to avoid deportation, sided against three of four litigants who claimed to be victims of discrimination and restrictive of separation of church and state compared to other federal appellate judges nationwide, including those who were selected by Republican presidents," Kuersten says.

Kuersten's conclusion is that Alito aligns himself with prosecutors more often than the average GOP-appointed judge in divided cases and is nearly identical to newly appointed Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. "It's obvious that he's more conservative than O'Connor has been."

Dr. Mark Hurwitz, a WMU assistant professor of political science, whose specialty is judicial appointments, has been watching the ongoing Alito congressional hearings with a keen eye. He's says Alito has done fairly well, but not as good as Roberts did.

"His performance has not been as smooth as Roberts' in that Alito's support is breaking down a little more along partisan lines," Hurwitz says. "But he's done nothing to lose the support of Republicans, so he's likely to be confirmed."

Hurwitz says Alito has been somewhat more forthcoming than some previous Supreme Court appointees, but is still following the trend, established by O'Connor, of dodging controversial questions rather than answering them.

"O'Connor is the one who started the dodging approach, and it's been followed by every successful appointee since then," Hurwitz says. "Thomas took it to an extreme when he said he'd never even thought about the issue of abortion. Robert Bork was the one who talked about what he had written and what he thought and, in the end, it was enough to hang him."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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