So much attention has been paid to the mixed reviews of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. by Senate Democrats and liberal Republicans that the press has largely ignored the enthusiastic applause from conservatives for the Supreme Court nominee.
After meeting with the judge last week, Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, issued a statement that yelled in all-capital letters: “Allen ‘strongly inclined’ to support Alito.”
That’s pretty high praise for a nominee who hasn’t even sat through the opening statements of his confirmation hearings, which are scheduled for January.
“I was very impressed by Judge Alito in our meeting today,” Mr. Allen said. “I felt the judge was a good, decent, solid individual who respects the rule of law in this country.”
Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, went a step further after meeting Judge Alito last week and said he’s voting for the nominee.
“While he still has his hearings in January, at this point, I can’t see any reason why I would not wholeheartedly support him,” he said. “Judge Alito is a conservative and believes the Constitution is a textual document that has words that must be adhered to, rather than a living, breathing document that changes over time.”
All the gushing is a drastic departure from Republican senators’ statements after the nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers for the same seat on the Supreme Court. In fact, many of the same Republican senators nearly endorsing Judge Alito today withheld support for Miss Miers, saying it would be improper to prejudge the nominee before her hearings.
One reason for the hasty support has to do with Judge Alito’s long record of judicial conservatism. Conservatives such as Mr. Allen and Mr. DeMint have complained for years that the courts usurp elected legislatures’ authority and diminish the powers of the states.
Those conservatives point to matters such as abortion, homosexual “marriage” and the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Most recently, conservatives have railed against the Supreme Court’s ruling this year that expanded the government powers of eminent domain to include situations in which property is seized and given to private developers.
Judge Alito, Mr. Allen said, “understands that laws are to be made by those who are elected by the people and that the role of a judge is to apply the law, not invent it. He also has respect for the will of the people in the states to determine their own laws.”
Mr. DeMint agreed.
“Judge Alito showed me that he has all the qualities of an intelligent and thoughtful jurist,” he said after his meeting.
The appraisal among Senate conservatives is nearly unanimous. Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, met with Judge Alito and emerged “extremely impressed.”
“He is obviously very well-qualified and has a great background,” he said. “He’s very smart, has the right temperament to be judge and a lot of experience.”
Although many in the press have found little newsworthy about Republicans praising a Republican nominee to the high court, others have noticed.
Within hours of the Alito nomination in October, the liberal group People for the American Way dispatched a release chronicling the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Judge Alito among conservatives — though not necessarily senators. Intended as a warning, the statement included the reaction of Christians, columnists and run-of-the-mill conservatives.
The group is so alarmed by the reaction that “Right Wing Watch” — a feature on its Web site, www.pfaw.org — has become largely devoted to Judge Alito.
And the reaction hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed by Democrats in the Senate.
Last week, after The Washington Times obtained and published an essay written by Judge Alito in 1985, many Senate Democrats fretted over the conservative views he espoused.
“This may explain why the right wing expressed such enthusiastic support for Judge Alito after campaigning against Harriet Miers,” observed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.