I happened to be working a desk job during the Alito hearings that allowed me to watch it on CSPAN the entire time, so I saw everyday. It was actually pretty interesting, seeing the various senators, mostly saying the same things over and over again. The more partisan democrats making wild accusations, the more partisan republicans asking no questions and refuting the democrats. The others feel somewhat in between.
However, I believe it was senator Biden (D. Delaware) who brought up the usefulness of the judiciary committee debating over the confirmation of a justice. Now there is value in actually debating the confirmation of a justice, in so far as the justice actually practices prudent law. This was largely addressed by Judge Alito’s record of nearly flawless regard for the law, the glowing recommendations of his fellow judges from both sides of the ideological spectrum, and his approval by the American Bar Association. Clearly he has a high regard for the law and it’s application.
Therefore, much of the confirmation hearing was politicians asking political questions based on decisions that they think are important and will be decided in the future by the Supreme Court. These questions simply were not appropriate for Judge Alito to answer. His reason was logical and relevant, his job is to decide cases based on arguments between the lawyers and application of law, not to decide before a judiciary committee and then apply later, disregarding or affirming what he had already said. His most prudent choice of action was what he chose, not answering questions directly about political issues that may be heard on the Supreme Court.
Now I am a fan of decisions and justices that have a regard for individual rights, privacy and the like. A more liberal judge that would support a woman’s right to choose, etc. However, I do not see it appropriate for a judge to have to answer questions about how he or she would decide such a case in the political atmosphere of the senate. It would essentially politically bind him to whatever he said. Judge Alito was right to dodge the questions.
I wrote earlier about how abortion was really not in danger just yet. I still think that is definitely true. Based on what I heard at the hearings, Alito will be a very conservative judge that will rely much on stare decisis and careful application of law. This is actually much better than a conservative judge who is also very activist.
The bottom line is if you want to see a different kind of judge appointed to the Supreme Court, then take it up the only way you can: with your vote. This year 33 senators are up for reelection and the whole house. These elections are important, do not miss them. They will add steam or take it away from the presidential race in 2008.