Kennedy Balks at 'Leading' Ethics Attack on Alito

Having failed to gain traction against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito by attacking his judicial philosophy or credentials, Democratic senators and liberal advocacy groups signaled they will now attack him on alleged “ethics” grounds.

At a briefing called to explain to reporters the lines of questioning Democrats plan to pursue during the confirmation hearings, aides to Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) handed out lengthy memos detailing two of the left’s “ethical” arguments against Alito.

But when I asked Kennedy directly at the briefing whether he would lead the attack on Alito’s ethics, the senator balked.

“Can we expect you to take the lead on these ethical attacks on his [Alito] credibility,” I asked.

“Well,” said Kennedy, “I think I’ve sort of outlined earlier the general way I’m approaching this and I don’t, I think, sort of outlined where I’ll be going. Then certainly, Vanguard, I know he will be asked about it, but whether I’ll get to it first, or I’ll get to it later on, I’m not sure, but I’m not sure that I will be able to.”

Kennedy aides distributed five handouts at the briefing. Two were devoted to attacks on Alito’s character. One of these targeted the nominee’s affiliation in the 1980s with the conservative Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), which opposed affirmative action at Princeton, and which, Kennedy, therefore, deemed a discriminatory organization.

Another memo handed out by Kennedy’s aides attacked Alito for not recusing himself from a case involving the Vanguard investment company, which managed mutual funds Alito owned shares in. (Alito had said during his confirmation for the appeals court that he would recuse himself from such cases. The Bush Justice Department, however, has pointed out that the Code of Judicial Conduct does not require judges to recuse themselves from cases involving investment companies that manage mutual funds they are invested in.)

In raising the CAP and Vanguard issues with reporters during the briefing session, Kennedy was mirroring the issues promoted in television ad campaigns announced last week by the left-wing and a coalition of liberal groups headed by People for the American Way. At a press briefing one day before Kennedy’s, PFAW’s Elliot Mincberg emphasized what he called “Judge Alito’s troubling credibility gap,” citing both the Vanguard case and Alito’s membership in CAP, which Mincberg said indicated Alito favored quotas to restrict, rather than expand, access for women and minorities.

For his own press briefing, Kennedy had prohibited video cameras and requested reporters RSVP a day ahead of time. He also did not include his name or any press contact information on the cover memos for the documents handed out by his staff.