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Remaking the Judge

November 28, 2005

Folks, we’re talking here with Terry Carville-Begala, the famed political strategist. How goes the fight to trash Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, Sam Alito?

Well, it’s just plain hard work, Geraldo. He’s a normal Republican pick, just as Breyer and Ginsburg were normal Democratic picks. But when we get through with him, he’ll look like Caligula.

How will you do that?

Well, we can’t say he’ll have women forced into back-alley abortions, as Teddy did to Bork. That’s considered crude today. Our model is what Chuck Schumer did to Charles Pickering. The judge had a segregationist past, then turned around and became a civil rights hero. Charles Evers, Medgar’s brother, said Pickering was one of the men who helped break the Klan in Mississippi. But Schumer played the old segregationist card brilliantly, and it worked. You don’t argue facts. You create impressions.

What impression for Alito?

That he’s an ideologue who dislikes women. Our feminists are already softening him up on the Pennsylvania spouse-notification law. A few on our side say his vote put women’s lives at risk by insisting that violent husbands know about their wives’ decisions to abort. Not so, really. Wives would have been exempt from telling husbands if they simply said they felt they would be put at risk. But the feminist anger is genuine, and we have to build on that. The New Yorkermagazine has already kicked in by saying that Alito’s spousal-notification vote “suggests a view of women and marriage that is, to put it gently, anachronistic.” Kind of stupid, I guess, but helpful. Alito applied Sandra Day O’Connor’s “undue burden” test pretty carefully, but by the time the case got to the Supreme Court, O’Connor had changed her mind. Guessing what O’Connor is going to think six months from now is like trying to bring down a distant butterfly with a boomerang. But again, it’s a mistake to get hung up on facts.

Is he really a misogynist?

Nicholas von Hoffman, the columnist, called Alito “the bringer of pain and tragedy into the lives of women.” That’s the way to do it. People don’t want to hear about evidentiary rules and precedents. Our base mostly thinks judges just vote on social policy, anyway. So if you reject a legal complaint from a female, you’re antiwoman. It’s like a political campaign. If your opponent voted against the Salute-the-Flag bill because of all the pork attached, you ignore the pork and hammer your opponent as antiflag.

Will he overturn Roe v. Wade ?

We have to be careful here. We depict him as a dull plodder who reflexively defers to precedents and Supreme Court rulings instead of voting his opinions. But that would be saying that he’s unlikely to overturn Roe, because it’s settled law and he has warned about the “shock” of reversing long-held Supreme Court decisions. We may be able to work both halves of this, but it won’t be easy.

What other impressions are you working on?

Resentment over the strip search he would have allowed of a 10-year-old girl.

Wasn’t that a technical issue? It was a police raid on a meth house. Police know that a dealer will often hide drugs on other people, hoping that they won’t be covered by the warrant. The police put this argument in their affidavit asking for a warrant to search everybody, but they screwed up and didn’t get it explicitly in the text of the warrant itself. Still, they felt they had made their case, so they had a female officer search a woman and her daughter. The officers argued that the information in the supporting affidavit was incorporated by reference. Alito agreed. But does this make him authoritarian and antichild?

It does if you want him to be seen as far to the right and out of the mainstream. Look, thanks to Arlen Specter, who delayed the hearings, we have two months to dig up and embellish old Alito cases. By that time, he’ll be antidisabled, antiminority, pretty much anti-everything. Just watch.

You give fresh meaning to “advice and consent,” Terry. Good luck.

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