Frist's Opening Remarks at Alito Debate

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) opened the floor debate on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court this morning by declaring his full support for the nominee and said it is his hope that members of the Senate “can put aside partisan rhetoric and the politics of personal destruction and stand on principle” by allowing “a respectful debate and a fair up-and-down vote” on the floor.

His opening statement is posted below:

Mr. President, today, I am honored to open debate on the nomination of Judge Sam Alito to be the 110th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

And I enthusiastically support his confirmation.

Judge Alito deserves to become Justice Alito.

And those who oppose him are smearing a decent and honorable man and imposing an unfair, political standard on all judicial nominees.

I support Judge Alito because he is exceptionally qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice.

I support Judge Alito because he is a man of integrity and modest judicial temperament.

I support Judge Alito because he has a record that demonstrates a respect for judicial restraint, an aversion to political agendas on the bench, and a commitment to the rule of law and the Constitution.

There is no question that Judge Alito is exceptionally well-qualified, measured, brilliant, deeply versed in and respectful of the law, and a man of character and integrity.  

But there is another reason why I support Judge Alito:   I support Judge Alito because denying him a seat on the Supreme Court could have devastating long-term consequences for our judicial nominations process.

Let me address these issues one at a time.  

From the moment President Bush nominated him last October, Judge Alito’s exceptional qualifications had a “wow” factor that impressed Senators of both parties.

In every respect, Judge Alito is a nominee who meets the highest standards of excellence.

He is a graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School.

He has dedicated his 30-year legal career to public service – as a federal prosecutor, an assistant to the Solicitor General where he argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, and for the last 15 years, as a federal judge on the Third Circuit in New Jersey.  

He has been unanimously confirmed, not once, but twice by the Senate.

On the federal bench, he has participated in more than 3,500 cases and written more than 300 opinions.

And the American Bar Association gave Judge Alito its highest rating – unanimously well-qualified.

But exceptional qualifications only begin to reveal why Sam Alito should be confirmed to the Supreme Court.  

Throughout his career – as a prosecutor and a judge — Sam Alito earned a reputation as a man of integrity who was fair-minded and evenhanded.

He earned the trust and respect of his colleagues — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

That’s one reason why 7 federal judges endorsed his nomination and testified on his behalf.  

And through the Judiciary Committee hearings, I believe we saw a clear picture emerge of Judge Alito’s modest judicial temperament.  

Despite enduring relentless questioning of his credibility, integrity, and personal and political views, Judge Alito remained unflappable – never once raising his voice or becoming confrontational and focusing clearly and articulately on the facts, the law, and the Constitutional questions presented to him.

In addition to his exceptional qualifications, integrity and temperament, Judge Alito deserves confirmation because he understands the limited role of a judge to interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.  

He practices judicial restraint and refuses to pre-judge cases or apply a personal political agenda on the bench.  

In his hearing before the Judiciary Committee, this philosophy was clear:  

“A judge can’t have an agenda,” he said. “A judge can’t have any preferred outcome in any particular case. . . . .  The judge’s only obligation – and it’s a solemn obligation – is to the rule of law, and what that means is that in every singe case, the judge has to do what the law requires.”  
And in his 15 years on the bench, Judge Alito has done exactly that.

Just listen to the words of one of Judge Alito’s former law clerks – a registered Democrat who still has a “Kerry for President” bumper sticker on his car:

“Until I read [Judge Alito’s] 1985 Reagan job application, I could not tell you what his politics were…When we worked on cases, we reached the same result about 95 percent of the time…It was my experience that Judge Alito was (and is) capable of setting aside any personal biases he may have when he judges.  He is the consummate professional.”
Perhaps the most important reason to support Judge Alito has less to do with Judge Alito himself and more to do with our judicial nominations process.

Regardless of their political views, Senators should treat judicial nominees with dignity, respect, and fairness.

Not just because it’s the right thing to do.

But because a process that politicizes and degrades judicial nominees will drive our best and brightest away from the bench.  

I remain profoundly disappointed in the unfair and unseemly treatment of Judge Alito during this process.

His judicial record has been distorted and mischaracterized.

He has been labeled as “non-responsive” during the hearings – despite providing candid and articulate answers to more than 650 questions in over 18 hours of testimony, far more than many, perhaps any Supreme Court nominee in the past.

And most sadly, he has been the victim of a calculated, but unsuccessful, campaign to smear his character, integrity, and credibility.  

In an editorial in support of Judge Alito published on January 15th, the Washington Post eloquently expressed this concern, even though they would have chosen a different nominee than Judge Alito.  

The Post editorial said, in part:

“He would not have been our pick for the high court. Yet Judge Alito should be confirmed, both because of his positive qualities as an appellate judge and because of the dangerous precedent his rejection would set…Supreme Court confirmations have never been free of politics, but neither has their history generally been one of party-line votes or of ideology as the determinative factor. To go down that road is to believe that there exists a Democratic law and a Republican law – which is repugnant to the ideal of the rule of law. However one reasonably defines the “mainstream” of contemporary jurisprudence, Judge Alito’s work lies within it. While we harbor some anxiety about the direction he may push the court, we would be more alarmed at the long-term implications of denying him a seat. No president should be denied the prerogative of putting a person as qualified as Judge Alito on the Supreme Court.”

Thirteen years ago, a Republican minority in the Senate voted to confirm the qualified nominee of a Democratic President by an overwhelming vote of 96-3.  

Despite a well-documented liberal record, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits on the Supreme Court today because Republican Senators chose to focus on her qualifications and not to obstruct her nomination based merely on her judicial philosophy or ideology.

I urge my colleagues to vote to confirm Judge Alito by applying the same, fair standard.

As we debate this week, I am hopeful that we can put aside partisan rhetoric and the politics of personal destruction and stand on principle.

A qualified judicial nominee like Judge Alito deserves a respectful debate and a fair up-or down vote on the Senate floor.

As Senators, it is our fundamental Constitutional duty and responsibility.