Editorial: Alito and womens rights

In the past week’s hearings on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, much attention has focused on his attitudes toward Roe v. Wade, and the right to privacy that underlies the Supreme Court’s historic 1973 decision upholding a woman’s right to choose abortion.

Alito responded with remarkable evasiveness to sharp questioning from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But his 1985 statement that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion,” and his 1991 vote to uphold a Pennsylvania law that would have required married women to notify their husbands before getting an abortion, cast a deep shadow over his claims to now approach the issue “with an open mind.”

Alito’s statements and track record are causing major concerns about other rights with special significance for women.

National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy warned at a Jan. 4 press conference that Alito would deny jury trials in cases of sexual discrimination in employment or sexual harassment on the job, turning the clock back to the days when women could only get bench trials from judges, which they usually lost.

Gandy said Alito apparently believes any act of Congress he disagrees with should be overturned, and added, “We stand to lose many acts of Congress … if we put on the bench a judge who says victims of sexual and racial discrimination can’t get their day in court.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Eleanor Smeal pointed out that as a judge, Alito claimed the Family and Medical Leave Act did not apply to public workers.

And E. Faye Williams, president of the National Congress of Black Women, said Alito’s statements that he is proud of opposing affirmative action programs could damage the rights of minorities and women on the job.

Alito’s ultra-right sponsors hope to see a Senate vote by Jan. 20, a couple days before the anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision. Now is the time for a wave of protest against Alito’s nomination, as part of the growing upsurge against the Bush administration’s efforts to undermine the rights and liberties guaranteeing our democracy.