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Sessions' opening statement on Alito

The opening statement of Sen. Jeff Sessions,  R-Ala., as prepared for delivery at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Samuel Alito.
/ Source: NBC News

The opening statement of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as prepared for delivery at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Samuel Alito.

I'd like to also extend my congratulations to you, Judge Alito, and your family. It's a very special day, a great honor to be nominated to the Supreme Court, the greatest court in the world, in my view.

And this will be a good, vigorous process. The Senate does have an obligation to make inquiry, and they'll do so.

I just hope and truly believe that when the end comes to these hearings, your answers will be heard, the charges that I've heard made that I know will be rebutted, people will listen and see the answers that you give.

And when they do, they'll feel great confidence in you as a member of the Supreme Court.

You have a record as a brilliant but modest jurist, one who follows the law, who exercises restraint and does not use the bench as an opportunity to promote any personal or political agenda. This is exactly what I believe the American people want in a justice to the Supreme Court. It's exactly what President Bush promised to nominate.

You represent philosophically that kind of judge who shows restraint, but at the same time you bring extraordinary qualifications and abilities here.

As has been said, judges are not politicians. They must decide discrete cases before them based on facts and the law of that case.

They're not policy-makers. Every lawyer that's practiced in America knows that. That's what they want in a judge. That's what I understand they believe you are. That's why the ABA has given you their top rating in my view.

This is the ideal of American law. It's the rule of law. It's the American ideal of justice, not to have an agenda, not to allow personal views to impact your decision-making. And I am real proud to see that your record indicates that.

I like Judge Roberts' phrase of modesty. I believe that is your philosophy also.

We had the opportunity for a time to serve as United States attorneys together. You are the top prosecutor in the office in New Jersey, one of the largest in the country.

And you had the whole state -- much larger than my office. But I think -- I do know your reputation as one of ability but modesty.

In fact, I remember distinctly somebody told me, "Don't underestimate Sam Alito. He's a modest kind of guy, but he's probably the smart guy in the Department of Justice." And I think that's the reputation you had and it's one that you can be quite proud of.

Your record of achievement is extraordinary. You were Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton, a Woodrow Wilson scholar. You attended Yale Law School. You were an editor of the Law Review, elected by your colleagues.

And, of course, for a graduating law student at a prestigious law school or any law school, being an editor of the Law Review is an extraordinary honor.

You clerked for a federal judge on the 3rd Circuit. And you were an assistant United States attorney. You did appellate work handling criminal cases. And as United States attorney, you prosecuted cases.

As I've checked the record, you would be the first person since Harry Truman to serve on the Supreme Court that had actual federal prosecutorial experience, which I think is of great value. As a matter of fact, I know it's of value.

And I've seen instances of Supreme Court rulings where errors have been made mostly as a result of just not understanding the system and how it operates.

As an assistant solicitor general, you argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court. That's an extraordinary number. Very, very few people in our country have had the opportunity to do that.

Very few lawyers will ever in their career do one case, much less 10.

You did a great job. I think that is why the ABA, American Bar Association, has rendered their views on you.

It's a 15-member committee. All of them participate on Supreme Court nominees. They take this very seriously. They interviewed judges with whom you worked, they interviewed your colleagues, they interviewed people who litigated against you, they interviewed litigants who'd lost before you as well as those who had won before you, your co-counsel. And at the conclusion of all of that, they unanimously gave you their highest possible rating. I think that is an important thing.

Some of us on our side of the aisle have criticized the ABA. We say they tilt a little to the left.

But their analysis process and the way they go about it provides valuable insight to this committee and to the people of America that the people of the country can know that they have interviewed a host of people who've dealt with you in every single area of your life, and they found you highly qualified, the best recommendation that they can get. And that is something you should take great pride in.

We don't want an activist judge. That's not what we want in this country.

By activist, I mean a judge who allows his personal views to overcome a commitment to faithfully following the law; following the law as it is, not as you would like it to be, good or bad, following that law. That's what we count on.

And when we violate that, we undermine law, we undermine respect for law and endanger this magnificent heritage of law that we've been given.

So from what I understand your approach to law, you've got it right, and your record indicates that.

The judicial oath you take is important. Some might say you have to follow precedent, and precedent is a very big part of what you do. But you take the oath to swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

That oath you will take, if confirmed -- and you've already taken it previously -- it is an oath not to decide whether a decision is good policy or not; that's for the legislative branch. It's not an oath to defend the wall the Supreme Court has enclosed sometimes around itself. It's not an oath to avoid admitting error in previous decisions.

But let me be more direct: The oath you take is not an oath to uphold precedent whether that precedent is super-duper or not.

If you love the Constitution -- which I hope you do; and intend to inquire about that -- you will enforce the Constitution as it is, good and bad. That's your responsibility in our democracy.

You know, we've already had this morning some matters that have been raised and I think are worthy of just responding to briefly, because allegations get made in these hearings. You may never get a chance, by the time this hearing's over, to rebut some of the things that have already been raised.

Senator Kennedy claimed that you've not offered an opinion or a dissent siding with a claim of racial discrimination. I would point him to U.S. v. Kithcart. There you made it clear the Constitution does not allow police officers to racially profile black drivers.

A police officer received a report that two black males in a black sports car had committed three robberies. Later, they pulled over a driver because he was a black man in a black sports car.

You wrote that this violated the Fourth Amendment. You stated that the mere fact that Kithcart was black and the perpetrators had been described as two black males was plainly insufficient.

And they also may want to look at your majority opinion in Brinson v. Vaughn, where you ruled that the Constitution does not allow prosecutors to exclude African-Americans from jurors.

And you granted the petition -- habeas petition -- in that case, reversing the conviction. You stated the Constitution guarantees, quote, "that a state does not use peremptory challenges of jurors, to remove any black jurors because of his race. Thus, a prosecutor's decision to refrain from discriminating against some African-American voters does not cure discrimination against others," closed quote.

And as for dissents, you were the lone dissenter, calling for an expansive interpretation of civil rights laws. Your dissent complained in an employer case that the majority had substituted its own opinion for the law, and you dissented and later the Supreme Court vindicated you 9-0.

So I would also note you were questioned about judicial independence. I think some of our people have mentioned that.

But an academic study of federal appeals court opinions rated you the fourth-most independent judge in the federal judiciary. That's out of about 900. And they took that based on issues such as whether or not you were most likely to disagree with judges or agree with judges of a different political party.

So, Mr. Chairman, I thank you for your leadership.

I look forward to a vigorous hearing. I'm confident this nominee has the skills and graces to make an outstanding Supreme Court justice.