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On the record: Alito's answers

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Supreme Court
Samuel Alito
Judiciary (system of justice)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senators on the Judiciary Committee began questioning Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on Tuesday. Click on a topic for excerpts of his answers on key issues.

Abortion law
Constitutional interpretation
Domestic spying
Executive power
Judicial activism
Legal precedent
Privacy
Public opinion
Role of judiciary
Use of foreign law

Abortion law

[The 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion] is a precedent that has now been on the books for several decades. It has been challenged. It has been reaffirmed.

But it is an issue that is involved in litigation now at all levels. There is an abortion case before the Supreme Court this term. There are abortion cases in the lower courts. I've sat on three of them on the Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. I'm sure there are others in other courts of appeals or working their way toward the courts of appeals right now.

So it's an issue that is involved in a considerable amount of litigation that is going on.

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Constitutional interpretation

I think the Constitution is a living thing in the sense that matters, and that is that it is -- it sets up a framework of government and a protection of fundamental rights that we have lived under very successfully for 200 years. And the genius of it is that it is not terribly specific on certain things.

It sets out -- some things are very specific, but it sets out some general principles and then leaves it for each generation to apply those to the particular factual situations that come up. ...

The liberty component of the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment ... embody the deeply rooted traditions of a country.

And it's up to each -- those traditions and those rights apply to new factual situations that come up. As times change, new factual situations come up, and the principles have to be applied to those situations.

The principles don't change. The Constitution itself doesn't change. But the factual situations change. And, as new situations come up, the principles and the rights have to be applied to them.

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Domestic spying

I think in the first instance, the government would have to come forward with its theory as to why the actions that were taken were lawful. I think that's correct. ...

If someone has been the subject of illegal law enforcement activities, they should have a day in court.

And that's what the courts are there for, to protect the rights of individuals against the government or anyone else who violates their rights.

And they have to be absolutely independent and treat everybody equally.

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Executive power

The president has to follow the Constitution and the laws. And, in fact, one of the most solemn responsibilities of the president -- and it's set out expressly in the Constitution -- is that the president is to take care that the laws are faithfully executed and that means the Constitution. It means statutes. It means treaties. It means all of the laws of the United States.

But what I am saying is that sometimes issues of executive power arise, and they have to be analyzed under the framework that Justice [Robert] Jackson set out. And you do get cases that are in this twilight zone, and they have to be decided when they come up based on the specifics of the situation.

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Judicial activism

I don't think that activism has anything to do with being a liberal or being a conservative; it has to do with not following the proper judicial role. It has to do with a judge's substituting his or her own views for what the Constitution means and for what the laws mean.

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Legal precedent

I think the doctrine of stare decisis is a very important doctrine. It's a fundamental part of our legal system.

And it's the principle that courts in general should follow their past precedents. And it's important for a variety of reasons. It's important because it limits the power of the judiciary. It's important because it protects reliance interests. And it's important because it reflects the view that courts should respect the judgments and the wisdom that are embodied in prior judicial decisions.

It's not an exorable command, but it is a general presumption that courts are going to follow prior precedents.

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Privacy

I do agree that the Constitution protects a right to privacy. And it protects the right to privacy in a number of ways.

The Fourth Amendment certainly speaks to the right of privacy. People have a right to privacy in their homes and in their papers and in their persons. And the standard for whether something is a search is whether there's an invasion of a right to privacy, a legitimate expectation of privacy.

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Public opinion

I think that the court and all the courts -- the Supreme Court, my court, all of the federal courts -- should be insulated from public opinion. They should do what the law requires in all instances.

That's why the members of the judiciary are not elected. We have a basically democratic form of government, but the judiciary is not elected. And that's the reason: so that they don't do anything under fire. They do what the law requires ...

I think that the legitimacy of the court would be undermined in any case if the court made a decision based on its perception of public opinion. It should make its decisions based on the Constitution and the law. It should not sway in the wind of public opinion at any time.

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Role of judiciary

My general philosophy is that the judiciary has a very important role to play ... the judiciary has to protect rights. And it should be vigorous in doing that. And it should be vigorous in enforcing the law and in interpreting the law in accordance with what it really means and enforcing the law even if that's unpopular.

But, although the judiciary has a very important role to play, it's a limited role. It is not -- it should always be asking itself whether it is straying over the bounds, whether it's invading the authority of the legislature, for example, whether it is making policy judgments rather than interpreting the law.

And that has to be a constant process of reexamination on the part of the judges. And that's the role that the judiciary should play.

Now, my experience on the bench has really reinforced for me the importance of the appellate process and the judicial process. And I described it yesterday.

And that is the process of really engaging the arguments that are made, reading the briefs, and approaching it with an open mind, always with the possibility of changing your mind based on the arguments and based on the facts of the particular case.

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Use of foreign law

I don't think that foreign law is helpful in interpreting the Constitution. Our Constitution does two basic things: It sets out the structure of our government and it protects fundamental rights.

The structure of our government is unique to our country, and so I don't think that looking to decisions of supreme courts of other countries or constitutional courts in other countries is very helpful. ...

As for the protection of individual rights, I think that we should look to our own Constitution and our own precedents. Our country has been the leader in protecting individual rights. ... We have our own law. We have our own traditions. ...

There are other legal issues that come up in which I think it's legitimate to look to foreign law.

For example, if a question comes up concerning the interpretation of a treaty that's been entered into by many countries, I don't see anything wrong with seeing the way the treaty has been interpreted in other countries.

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