Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Alito and Gay Rights

As I told The Commissar, I’m reserving judgement on Judge Samuel A. Alito’s appointment to the Supreme Court until all the evidence such as his writings, rulings, and his testimony in the Senate is in. After all, fair is fair, and I think the on-line petitions and ads by the left and the right regarding the appointment are both premature and little more than a crass attempt to raise money for their organizations. That’s fine, but I’m not signing up just yet.

Some evidence is already in. It turns out that Judge Alito has spoken out about such hot-button issues as gay rights and protection from government invasion of privacy via the internet. Via AMERICAblog and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

In college, Samuel Alito led a student conference that urged legalization of sodomy and curbs on domestic intelligence, a sweeping defense of privacy rights he said were under threat by the government and the dawning computer age.

President Bush’s choice for the Supreme Court, in a report written years before ubiquitous personal computers made electronic privacy the everyday concern it is now, warned of the potential for abuses by officials and companies collecting data on individuals.

Three decades before the Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex, Alito declared on behalf of his group of fellow Princeton students that “no private sexual act between consenting adults should be forbidden.” Alito also called for an end to discrimination against homosexuals in hiring.

As a federal appellate judge, Alito has built a scant record on gay-rights issues and a mixed one, at best, on privacy matters generally, in the view of civil liberties advocates who are still examining his opinions.

But they saw in the 1971 report a prescient thinker taking on issues ahead of their time, including the need for computer encryption, stronger oversight of domestic intelligence and curbs on the surveillance powers of states.

“The document itself is amazing,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It is a dramatic statement in support of the right of privacy.


The Human Rights Campaign, which advocates gay rights, said the report gives senators the basis to question Alito on that subject and privacy matters broadly in his confirmation hearings.

“If these are his views today – and there is no indication they are not – it’s a hopeful sign that may provide some insight into his philosophy,” said David Smith, the group’s policy vice president. “This isn’t pop-the-champagne-cork time. His views need to be explored.”

Even so, Smith was struck that Alito’s report would raise a subject few tackled back then, and come down so unequivocally on it. “Very few people were standing up for gay Americans 34 years ago,” he said.

I’m sure once the Religious Reich gets ahold of this bit of news, they’re going to dismiss it as a “youthful indiscretion” and assure us all that Judge Alito has since become much more doctrinaire and uptight. After all, those were the swingin’ ’70’s. But if the same rubrics apply to Judge Alito that President Bush used in choosing Harriet Miers — that he will not change his judicial philosophy over the coming decades — can he assume that Judge Alito hasn’t changed his views over the last 34 years? You would think not since he is widely regarded as a solid thinker who doesn’t change his views to meet the current whims of society. If anything, the young Alito sounds like one of those old-fashioned Barry Goldwater conservatives who is suspicious of government interference in the private lives of its citizens and would be loathe to allow the laws to be changed just to satisfy the situational morality of the people who have the power.

Like I said, we’ll have to wait and see, but I wonder what James Dobson and Gary Bauer are thinking…