The Lonely Centrist

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Alito Hearings - Wait, don't leave yet!

If you are like most Americans, you are probably already bored to death with the Alito hearings. Nevertheless, I was listening today on the drive into work, a longer than expected trip due to an accident. I don't know that I would have much to say about these hearings, but I'll try to add a wee bit of wisdom, ...

First, it's no secret that judicial confirmation hearings have become something of a farce. Why is that? A key reason is the press, which does nothing to help the public understand the issues, and so encourages both sides to play cute. Democrats can twist and distort precedents, and Republican nominees, knowing that that will be the case, and that the press will not even try to straighten the record, then try to say as little as possible, no matter how silly they sometimes sound.

Take this headline from Reuters: "Democrats Fear Alito May Ban Abortion." It is somewhat unfair to tar reporters with what the headline writers write, but let us be clear - no one is seriously suggesting at this time that the Supreme Court ban abortion. The most the Court can do is overrule Roe's holding of a constitutional right to an abortion, thus sending the issue back to the states, where legislatures of different states would no doubt adopt a variety of differing regimes. (I am aware of a theory that would hold that abortion violates the rights of the fetus, thus violating the 14th Amendment, but really, that is not in play).

Why must abortion be played so coyly? No Republican nominee can claim to want to overrule Roe v. Wade, because the decision is popular with the public. But no Democrat can afford to present the issue honestly, because the public doesn't really favor Roe, but rather favors what it thinks Roe says. Most Americans are unaware that Roe constitutionalizes a legal regime far more permissive than that in most European nations; most Americans are unaware that as a practical matter, Roe allows any abortion at any time for any reason. In fact, while most Americans favor some right to an abortion in some circumstances, most Americans at least favor some trimming back - majorities favor parental notification laws, cooling off periods, bans on "partial birth" abortions, and no government funding of abortions. I doubt very much if most Americans understand that repeal of Roe would not ban abortions.

Headlines and articles such as that above do nothing to create understanding of Roe and what is at stake, making it hard for the participants in the debate to have a serious discussion.

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