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Cornyn's opening statement on Alito

The opening statement of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, as prepared for delivery at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Samuel.
/ Source: NBC News

The opening statement of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, as prepared for delivery at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Samuel.

Judge Alito, welcome to the committee, and to your family as well.

I'm a little surprised to learn that you have a triply high burden for confirmation here. I guess we'll get a chance to explore that, and the fairness of that, or whether all nominees ought to have the same burden before the committee.

What I want to also make sure of is that we don't hold you to a double standard, that we don't expect of you answers to questions that Justice Ginsburg and others declined to answer in the interest of the independence of the judiciary and in the interests of observing the canons of judicial ethics.

Nevertheless, we have already heard a great deal about you and your credentials for the Supreme Court. As has been noted, you serve with distinction on the court of appeals. You served as United States attorney. And, indeed, you served your entire adult life in public service.

We've also heard a bit today, and you'll hear more as these proceedings unfold, about the testimonials from people who have worked with you, people who know you best. Whether liberal, moderate or conservative the judges on your court have praised you as a thoughtful and open-minded jurist, and we'll hear more from them later in the week.

The same can be said of the law clerks who've worked with you over the last 15 years. As you know, law clerks are those who advise appellate judges on the cases they hear. And you've had law clerks from all political persuasions, from members of the Green Party to Democrat clerks, even a clerk that went on to serve as counsel of record for John Kerry's campaign for president.

And every single one of them says that you will make a terrific Supreme Court justice, that you apply the law in a fair and even- handed manner, and that you bring no agenda to your job as a judge.

If fairness, integrity, qualifications and an open mind were all that mattered in this process, you would be confirmed unanimously, but we know that's not how the process works or at least how it works today.

We know that 22 senators, including five on this committee, voted against Chief Justice Roberts' confirmation just a few short months ago. And my suspicion is that you do not come here with a total level playing field.

I'm reluctantly inclined to the view that you and other nominees of this president to the Supreme Court start with no more than 13 votes on this committee and only 78 votes in the full Senate, with a solid, immovable, unpersuadable block of at least 22 votes against you no matter what you say and no matter what you do.

Now, that's unfortunate for you, but it is even worse for the Senate and its reputation as the world's greatest deliberative body.

The question is: Why, with so many people from both sides of the aisle and across the ideological spectrum supporting your nomination are liberal special interest groups and their allies devoting so much time and so much money to defeat your nomination?

The answer, I'm afraid, is that there are a number of groups who really don't want a fair-minded judge who has an openness to both sides of the argument. Rather, they want judges who will impose their liberal agenda on the American people; views so liberal that they cannot prevail at the ballot box.

So they want judges who will find traditional marriage limited to one man and one woman unconstitutional. They want judges who will ban any religious expression from the public square. They even want judges who will prohibit school children from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

As I say, none of these are mainstream positions embraced by the American people, so the strategy is to try to impose their agenda through unelected judges.

Judge Alito, the reason why these groups are trying to defeat your nomination because you won't support their liberal agenda is precisely why I support it.

I want judges on the Supreme Court who will not use that position to impose their personal policy preferences or political agenda on the American people.

I want judges on the Supreme Court who will respect the words and the meaning of the Constitution, the laws enacted by Congress and the laws enacted by state legislatures.

Now, this doesn't mean, as you know, that a judge will always reach what might be called a conservative result. It means that judges will reach whatever result is directed by the Constitution, by the law, and by the facts of the case.

Sometimes, it might be called conservative; sometimes it might be called liberal. But the point is that the meaning of the Constitution and other laws should not change unless we the people change them.

A Supreme Court nomination and appointment is not a roving commission to rewrite our laws however you and your colleagues see fit. I'll give you one example where I believe our Supreme Court has been rewriting the law for a long time. It's a narrative near and dear to me and others in this country. And I'm speaking of the ability of people of faith to freely express their beliefs in the public square.

There is no doubt where the founding fathers stood on this issue. They believed that people of faith should be permitted to express themselves in public. They believed that this country was big enough and free enough to allow expression of on enormous variety of views and beliefs.

They believed that freedom of expression included religious views and beliefs, so long as the government did not force people to worship in a particular matter and remain neutral on what those views and beliefs were.

But this country has gotten seriously off track under the Supreme Court when it went so far as to limit the right of even private citizens to freely express their religious views in public.

As I mentioned to you when we met early on in these proceedings, I had an opportunity, as some have had on this committee, to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court.

When I was attorney general, I argued a case -- helped argue a case called -- Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The school district in that case had the temerity to permit student-led, student-initiated prayer before football games. And, of course, someone sued. I repeat, this was student-led, student-initiated, voluntary prayer. The Supreme Court held by a vote of 6-3 that this was unconstitutional.

The decision led the late Chief Justice Rehnquist to remark that the court now, quote, exhibits hostility to all things religious in public life. And it's hard to disagree with him.

Depictions or expressions of sex, violence, crime are all permitted virtually without limit; but religion, it seems, never.

Now, this is where you come in, Judge.

I appreciate your record on the 3rd Circuit respecting the importance of neutrality of government when it comes to religious expression on a voluntary basis by individual citizens.

It's my sincere hope that when confirmed that you will persuade your colleagues to reconsider their attitude toward religious expression and grant it the same freedom currently reserved for almost all other non-religious speech.

No wonder many in America seem to believe that the court has become one more inclined to protect pornography than to protect religious expression.

Most people in America don't believe that God is a dirty word, but the sad fact is that some Americans are left to wonder whether the Supreme Court might have greater regard for it if it was.

Again, welcome to the committee, and thank you for your continued willingness to serve our great nation.