Only six students attended the introductory meeting for the Harvard chapter of Law Students Against Alito last night—but the chapter’s leaders say they have ambitious plans both to help defeat Samuel A. Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court and to help promote a progressive judicial philosophy on campus.
The students said they will use a variety of tactics to bring about their goals. These will include drafting a model letter for law students to send to their home state congressmen, writing to newspapers, encouraging students to sign an online petition against Alito, and contributing to an online blog run by the national Law Students Against Alito organization.
“[Alito]’s going down,” said second-year Harvard Law School (HLS) student Julie Straus to encourage her peers at the outset of the meeting. “We can do it.”
They may be facing an uphill battle, if polls are any indication. A November Gallup Poll indicated that 50 percent of the country was in favor of Alito’s confirmation, while 25 percent were against it, and an additional 25 percent were unsure.
HLS student organizer Matthew A. Macdonald said there was an early consensus that Alito was fairly moderate. But as more information has come out about the judge, he said, there is more to suggest that he is a “movement conservative.”
“As more evidence has emerged, it’s become more and more likely that he’d do damage to Roe v. Wade, erode protections against excessive police power, erode protections against employment discrimination, and allow greater intrusion into the lives of people on a number of different issues,” he said.
The group discussed organizing a panel of law school professors opposed to Alito’s nomination, which would take place in early January, in the week before Congress starts confirmation hearings. But the group could recall only one professor who has come out against Alito—Loeb University Professor Laurence H. Tribe '62.
“There are not many others who are terribly vocal,” said Macdonald. “That’s something that ought to change.”
Other students present at the meeting suggested that there seemed to be a general “apathy” among students about Alito’s confirmation.
Harvard Law Students for Choice, for example, recently voted to stay neutral on Alito’s nomination.
Second-year law student Michael A. Negron said he wants to make an effort to raise awareness about the judicial issues and to promote debate on campus.
“We need to educate people on the issues at stake,” he said. “We have to neutralize the rhetoric on the right... Maybe we should have debates on the proper role of judges in society.”
Other students echoed Negron’s request to promote a judicial philosophy different from the one that the Bush administration and Originalist judges like Alito and Antonin Scalia have supported.
“[Originalism] is not an intellectually honest process,” said Macdonald. “A lot of conservatives do just as much legislating from the bench in their ‘interpretation of the law.’”
While the group of students assembled last night may have been small, several of the students had connections to other campus groups, like the American Constitution Society and the Harvard Law Students for Choice. They said they hope they can draw these organizations into the fight.
Straus proposed the idea of having a table in Harkness Commons with issue-oriented information. Others in the group extended her idea, suggesting that students do research on Alito’s rulings that affected different areas of the law, like environmental law and civil-rights law, and come up with handouts to give to other law students.
Those present at the meeting said they expect many of their ideas to come to fruition after Christmas break, as Alito’s confirmation hearings will not begin until mid-January.