Alexander's Column

Dear Mr. President — A letter from Teddy Kennedy...

Mark Alexander · Nov. 4, 2005

On Tuesday morning, an urgent correspondence from Senator Edward M. Kennedy to President George W. Bush was inadvertently delivered to the publishing headquarters of The Patriot. It seems that one of Mr. Kennedy’s aides mistakenly put the letter to President Bush in a Patriot donor-support envelope – which means that the White House instead received a priority message from Sen. Kennedy with a profane “cease and desist” note addressed to your humble editorial staff.

Our editors wrestled with the legal and ethical implications of reprinting this letter for at least 60 seconds before concluding that we should disclose its contents to you, our esteemed readers, verbatim – well, sort of.

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the American people, I must say that we are deeply disappointed, offended in fact, with your nomination of Judge Samuel Alito for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Clearly, you’re pandering to the right-wing extremists on the fringe of your party.

Yes, when Ronald Reagan nominated Alito to be a U.S. attorney in 1987, he received unanimous consent from the Senate. Yes, when your old man nominated him for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 1990, he again received unanimous consent from the Senate. Surely by now, some right-wing Internet rag has uncovered my praise for Justice, err, Judge Alito at his confirmation hearing back then: “You have obviously had a very distinguished record, and I certainly commend you for long service in the public interest. I think it is a very commendable career and I am sure you will have a successful one as a judge.”

However, he was the lone conservative voice on the Third Circuit Court back then, so I didn’t view his confirmation as a threat to our Constitution.

Besides, Mr. President, you know how these back-room wink-and-nod deals are cut. Remember when we agreed to give Reagan unanimous consent for that right-wing nut case Antonin Scalia in 1986, with the understanding that you guys would show us the same favor when it was our turn? Indeed, when my good friend Ms. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, was nominated by my good friend Bill Clinton, she received overwhelming bipartisan support from Republicans.

More recently, knowing that your partisans would invoke the constitutional, err, nuclear option to change Senate rules and force a full-Senate vote on your right-wing appellate nominees, we agreed to release some of them for a floor vote. Then, when you finally got an opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, you sent up a guy named John Roberts, about whom precious little was known. That allowed us to save face with the American people. Even less was known, publicly, about Harriet Miers, which is why my colleague, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, was kind enough to recommend her for the High Court.

But now you’ve nominated in her place a man about whom a great deal is known. After 15 years on the appellate court, we know Alito is a dinosaur, a constitutional constructionist, somebody who can read what the Constitution actually says – and this has the American people very upset.

You and your right-wingers seem to cling to the antiquated notion that the Constitution should be interpreted as written. Well, wake up and smell the whiskey! What the American people want is a Supreme Court that will do what we, as their elected representatives, bid it to do. That’s the Democratic way.

As I said in my press conference today, “Rather than selecting a nominee for the good of the nation and the court, you have selected a nominee who conservatives think has views as extreme as their own. If confirmed, Alito will fundamentally alter the balance of the court and push it dangerously to the right, placing at risk decades of American progress in safeguarding our fundamental rights and freedoms.”

When Harry Reid told you to “find a consensus nominee,” you not only ignored his sage advice – you also failed to seek his approval for this nominee prior to your announcement. That, Mr. President, is a disgraceful example of partisanship.

We are gravely concerned that, in the words of my senatorial colleague, Chuck Schumer, “Alito will use his seat to return the court to the injustice of the past.” Well, Mr. President, we are not going to let that happen. Pat Leahy feels the same way. “This is a needlessly provocative nomination,” he said. “Instead of uniting the country through your choice, you have chosen to reward one faction of your party, the virulent wing of the Republican Party, at the risk of dividing the country.” My understudy, John Kerry, echoes these grave concerns: “The far right wing has now forced you to nominate a divisive justice in the mold of Antonin Scalia who does not hold mainstream American values, rather than a qualified woman or minority.” Dick Durbin got it right when he called this nomination “an effort to appease the far right wing.”

The same talking points have been distributed to my underlings down in the House. Nan Pelosi got them: “The radical conservative right is in charge of your administration.”

Until now, Mr. President, we’ve worked extremely well together. As your far-right radical base has no doubt told you, you haven’t yet vetoed a single spending or regulatory-expansion measure we’ve sent over your way. Heck, your dad’s foundation even bestowed upon me its annual lifetime achievement award for public service. But everything hangs in the balance with this nominee, Mr. President – so all bets are off.

So what if Alito has great academic credentials and more judicial experience than 105 of 109 Justices confirmed to the court? So what if Alito is the son of poor Italian immigrants? He may think he’s Catholic, but he lacks the integrity of an Irish Catholic like me. None of this matters. I got kicked out of Harvard for cheating on a Spanish exam – so what? I left a young gal to drown when I got sloshed and drove us off that bridge – so what? I am still a Senator.

Judge Alito has demonstrated that he’s a strict constructionist who supports states’ rights and thinks the First Amendment restricts only the Congress when it comes to our sacred wall of separation between church and state. He would, no doubt, return to states and local communities the decision to have prayer in their schools. He’s even approved Christmas displays by local municipalities. Even worse, though, is his support of parents’ rights – as if they know better how to raise their kids than the government does. Alito thinks the Second Amendment means what it says, and that, Mr. President, is really dangerous. As you know, far more conservatives own guns than liberals. But my greatest concern is that he’s the sort of nut who believes that children in the womb deserve to live, and that husbands – and parents in the case of minors – should be notified before an abortion. Outrageous.

Your little “Scalito” claims, that “Judges should be judges. They shouldn’t be legislators, they shouldn’t be administrators.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist seems to agree, insisting, “Judge Alito has displayed a judicial philosophy marked by judicial restraint and respect for the limited role of the judiciary to interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.”

Well, maybe that was true back when the Constitution was ratified, but not today. What unmitigated arrogance. Frankly, we know that all this “constructionist” stuff is just a ruse to suggest the Constitution does not guarantee the right to kill children before they are born. As you know, that right is what holds our Party together, and we will not turn it back over to the states.

Mr. President, as Chuck Schumer said earlier today, Alito is “a controversial nominee for a pivotal swing vote on the High Court who could shift the balance of the court, and thus the laws of the nation, for decades to come.” I’m well aware, Mr. President, that you made a campaign promise to appoint strict constructionist judges in the mold of Scalia and Thomas, but it was only a campaign promise after all. I mean, it’s not like anyone would’ve held you to it.

Candidly speaking, you know as well as I do that the majority of Americans don’t support our Democratic agenda – which is why we’re so desperate to maintain control of the Supreme Court. If we can’t pass legislation by legitimate means, we can still do it by judicial diktat, right?

Level with me, Mr. President: Did you use the Miers nomination as a decoy to rally your troops behind Alito? Either way, you can rest assured that we’ll use this same nomination to rally our constituents – we will have them whipped into a frenzy and filling our Senate and House campaign coffers with their last pennies. In the end, your Party controls the Senate and can even invoke the “nuclear option.” OK, but we will not take up this nomination until January, to give us as much time as possible to unite our base.

Prepare for battle, Mr. President. We are going to use everything in our arsenal, starting with our print and television media outlets, to force you into submission.

Sincerely,

Senator Edward Kennedy

(OK – The “verbatim – well, sort of” letter above, is political satire. However, all the quotes were actual comments as attributed, and some of the “Kennedy” comments are actually taken, verbatim, from his press release and other comments on Alito. While the letter closely mirrors the Democrats’ position on our Constitution and the Alito nomination, it was crafted by Mr. Alexander. It is most telling, however, that some folks are convinced Kennedy did write the letter.)