Alito can be proud of his heritage
Critics of the court nominee are resorting to anti-Italian smears, but he has a majestic patrimony behind him

by Rosario A. Iaconis
(used by permission of the author)

What makes Sammy's critics run at the mouth?

Are they politically obtuse? Or has anti-Italian sentiment trumped patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels?

For that matter, where have all the media's liberal consciences gone? And why do the likes of Howard Dean and Katrina vanden Heuvel continue to demean Samuel Alito - an impeccably qualified jurist - by calling him "Scalito"?

Besides being ethnically derisive, this code word is ideologically simplistic. Justice Antonin Scalia is an acerbic originalist of no mean intellectual depth. Alito, who has served with distinction on the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the past 15 years, favors a less textual, more eclectic approach to the law. But he is no less brilliant.

Imagine the fiery condemnations that would greet an ethnic conflation of Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You don't have to be Jewish to abhor "Breyerburg."

Then there's the "Machine Gun Sammy" sobriquet. A press release issued by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence distorted Alito's dissent in a case over possession of guns in school zones: "Earth to Sammy - who needs legal machine guns? The Chicago mobsters of the 1930s would be giddy." Chicago mobsters. Italian nominee. Machine Gun Sammy. Get it?

In a document uncovered by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Democratic operatives are encouraged to depict Judge "Scalito" as an implacable foe of civil liberties, immigrants and a woman's reproductive rights.

One particularly abominable talking point says: "While serving as U.S. Attorney, Alito failed to obtain a key conviction, releasing nearly two dozen mobsters back into society." Translation: Alito is soft on the mob.

What is conveniently ignored is that Alito inherited this case at the penultimate hour. He later earned his crime-busting credentials by bringing several major organized-crime figures to justice.

Even the Bush administration initially succumbed to stereotypical thinking. On Dec. 27, 2003, The New York Times featured a front-page article in which White House officials ruminated how Alito's chances for a seat "may have lessened after one senior official noted that there was already an Italian-American on the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia."

Not long ago, Mario Cuomo admonished both political parties for the "growing politicization of the judiciary." And he was right. Although presidents tend to pick jurists who adhere to their judicial philosophy, ideology must never overrule pragmatism when choosing a Supreme Court justice. This is especially true when the nominee is the heir to a venerable jurisprudential tradition.

Like Cuomo and Scalia, Alito owes much to the legal wisdom of his forefathers on two shores. Alito can call upon the rich canon of Roman law that undergirds our republic ( derived from the Latin res publica) - from the Twelve Tables of Rome to the Augustan reformation to Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution adopted the Roman concepts of the rule of law, a bicameral legislature and the separation of powers for the nascent American republic. And Thomas Jefferson derived the Declaration of Independence's guiding principle from a more contemporary Italian thinker, Filippo Mazzei: "All men are by nature equally free and independent."

Alito is the latest in a long line of distinguished Italo-American magistrates and prosecutors. Michael Angelo Musmanno, who had served as an appellate attorney for Sacco and Vanzetti, later presided over the Nuremberg Trials.

As counsel to the Senate Banking Committee, Ferdinand Pecora exposed Wall Street's corrupt financial underbelly in the 1930s. His relentless cross-examination of banker J.P. Morgan revealed corporate malfeasance on an enormous scale and led to the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

John Sirica, who presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars, changed the course of American history when he demanded that President Richard M. Nixon surrender tape-recorded Oval Office conversations. Although disparaged as a "little wop" by Nixon, Sirica was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1973.

Given this majestic patrimony, Alito should bring a bracing air of sound judicial reasoning to the highest court in the land. For like the Roman jurist Ulpian long ago, he understands that "jurisprudence is knowledge of divine and human things, knowledge of what is right and what is wrong."

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