Newly elected Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is likely to shift the nation’s highest court slightly more to the conservative side, said a professor of political science at CSUN.
Though President Bush’s latest nominee has shifted the court farther to the right, the court is still one nomination away from becoming primarily conservative, said Christopher Shortell, who teaches courses in constitutional law.
By replacing former moderate justice Sandra Day O’Connor with conservative justice Alito, justice Anthony Kennedy is now believed to be the primary centrist and pivotal swing voter in any future 5-4 decisions, Shortell said.
“(In fact) there is even a chance that Kennedy may move in a slightly more liberal direction if he feels the court is moving too far to the right,” Shortell stated.
Alito’s nomination sharply divided senators along party lines, including Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., who believed the nomination would move the court too far in a conservative direction.
“It is my conclusion that Judge Alito would most likely join Justices Thomas and Scalia in the originalist and strict constructionist interpretations of the Constitution,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor Jan. 26 after voting against Alito the first time in the senate judiciary committee. “I have come to this conclusion based on Judge Alito’s record in the Reagan Administration and on the bench.”
Feinstein voted against Alito in both the senate judiciary committee and the full senate vote.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who voted against Alito in the full senate vote, stated her early opposition Jan. 24 on the Senate floor.
“The right thing to do would have been to give us a justice in the mold of Justice O’Connor, and that is what the president should have done,” Boxer said.
Alito now has the chance to rule on important civil rights issues such as free speech, privacy and abortion. Among the cases before the Supreme Court affecting college students is the Illinois case Hosty v. Carter, which will determine what rights independent college newspapers have.
“(Alito has) generally taken a very broad protection of speech rights for college students,” said Eugene Volokh, professor of law at UCLA Law School. “(It) sounds like he is more on the side of protecting free speech.”
Alito’s voting record on the first amendment includes Saxe v. State College Area School District, where he ruled with the majority opinion and struck down a public school district’s anti-harassment policy as unconstitutional. In the unanimous opinion of The Pitt News v. Pappert, he upheld the right of student newspapers to carry alcohol advertisements.
Alito’s views of the fourth amendment, however, have not coincided with his free speech views.
“He has not been very receptive to fourth amendment arguments,” Shortell said.
In Doe v. Groody, Alito dissented from the majority opinion, which held the strip search of a mother and 19-year-old daughter unconstitutional. Alito argued that officers had probable cause based on a warrant authorizing a search of the family’s house. Neither the mother nor the daughter was specifically named in the warrant.
When it comes to the establishment clause and free exercise clause of the first amendment, “he is very protective of religious expression,” said Shortell.
In Abdul-Aziz v. City of Newark, Alito wrote for the majority saying that a police department’s requirements to have officers shave their beards, without providing a religious exemption, violated the first amendment rights of two Muslim police officers.
When presented with the issue, Alito may favor free religious expression over separation of church and state Shortell said.
On Feb. 1, in his first decision sitting on the high court, Alito voted with the majority of the justices to refuse the state of Missouri’s request to stay the execution of death-row inmate Michael Taylor. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.
Michael Siciliano can be reached at Mas20740@csun.edu.