As the nomination process unfolds, Samuel Alito’s profile and rulings will now be put under a microscope.

The two Alito rulings that will no doubt receive the most attention are ACLU v. Schundler and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Alito wrote the majority opinion [1] in ACLU v. Schundler, 168 F.3d 92 (3d Cir. 1999), holding that a holiday display on city property did not violate the Establishment Clause because it included secular symbols, such as a large plastic Santa Claus, in addition to religious symbols.

Such mixed displays had previously been held constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU argued that a previous city display that was ruled unconstitutional because it lacked secular symbols colored the purpose of the new display. Alito wrote:

“As our prior discussion of Lynch and Allegheny County illustrates, the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding holiday displays have been marked by fine line-drawing, and therefore it is not easy to determine whether particular displays satisfy the Court’s standards.

Under these circumstances, the mere fact that city officials miscalculate and approve a display that is found by the federal courts to cross over the line is hardly proof of the officials’ bad faith.”

A dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 947 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1991), arguing that a Pennsylvania law that required women seeking abortions to inform their husbands should have been upheld.

As Judge Alito reasoned, “[t]he Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands’ knowledge because of perceived problems â€â€? such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands’ previously expressed opposition â€â€? that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion.” while also adding some exceptions:

“These exceptions apply if a woman certifies that she has not notified her husband because she believes [FN4] that (1) he is not the father of the child, (2) he cannot be found after diligent effort, (3) the pregnancy is the result of a spousal sexual assault that has been reported to the authorities, or (4) she has reason to believe that notification is likely to result in the infliction of bodily injury upon her.”

Chief Justice Rehnquist’s dissent from the Supreme Court’s 5-4 [corrected] decision striking down the spousal notification provision of the law quoted Judge Alito’s dissent and expressed support for Judge Alito’s reasoning.

Read the rest of the cases listed and draw your own conclusions.

My initial reaction is that it would appear as if Alito champions a more balanced and thoughtful view of constitutional law and allows for an interpretation which takes into account and addresses the greyness that can be involved in these type of rulings.

Yes, looking at a nominee’s past rulings can provide greater insight into future decisions, but keep in mind, no two cases are exactly the same and require legal interpretation in the context of what is driven by constitutional meaning.

What’s needed at this level is a keen understanding of constitutional law and its wise application, not just a presumption of someone’s personal beliefs.

The issue in front of the nominating committee should be determining whether this person has demonstrated an astute understanding, interpretation, and application of constitutional law, not just whether he’s inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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