Commentary: What ever happened
SAN DIEGO -- I took an early liking to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr. I thought it was charming that he had said that the life story of his Italian immigrant father was much more interesting than his own. But now I've seen something I don...
SAN DIEGO -- I took an early liking to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr. I thought it was charming that he had said that the life story of his Italian immigrant father was much more interesting than his own. But now I've seen something I don't like. It has to do with an organization that Alito once boasted that he belonged to but about which he now claims to know little.
As the Senate this week considers Alito's nomination, here's the question senators have to confront: Was Alito overstating matters in 1985 when, angling for a promotion, he made it known to officials in the Reagan Justice Department in a memorandum that he belonged to a group called "Concerned Alumni of Princeton"? Or is he understating matters now when, seeking a promotion of another sort, he claims he has "no recollection of being a member, of attending meetings, or otherwise participating in the activities of the group"?
It's hard to tell. Part of the reason may be Alito's admission that, as a lawyer, he was accustomed to advocating for certain positions and playing up his advocacy to win favor with employers. For instance, Alito told senators that he said he was simply applying for a job when, in the same memorandum in which he disclosed his affiliation with the Concerned Alumni, he was proud of having argued that the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion. Trouble is, Alito is now applying for another job, and trying to impress moderate members of the Senate in both parties. So, given his history of using job interviews to tell people what they want to hear, how can we be sure that he really believes what he's telling us?
Besides, Concerned Alumni of Princeton -- which folded in the late 1980s -- doesn't strike me as the type of organization that might slip one's mind; its founders and board members were mostly outspoken opponents of Princeton's affirmative action policies and maintained that the school had lowered its standards to admit women and minorities.
That's not the most offensive part. A lot of people resist change in their old schools, especially in the Ivy League. A lot of others think that you can't have diversity without abandoning standards. Personally, I don't. We're a long way from having to pass the plate on behalf of white men because, as a class, they can't get into the college of their choice or a decent job.
Yet, as someone who has come over time to oppose stringent racial preferences because I think they hurt the very people they are intended to help, I'm not about to hold one's opposition to affirmative action against them. But what I will hold against them is their hypocrisy and inconsistency. And that's what bothers me about this Princeton bunch. It seems the same people who were so insistent that applicants be admitted on the basis of merit -- when it came to keeping out women and minorities -- were willing to bend that standard when it came to arguing that Princeton should admit more children of alumni.
Whoa. What happened to merit? This bunch talked a good game about how admissions standards should be upheld and how quality shouldn't be sacrificed for the sake of diversity, when all the while what really concerned them was that their own kids might never make it into their beloved alma mater.
There doesn't seem to be much evidence that Alito subscribed to that double standard, or that he was deeply committed to the group's objective of keeping women and minorities out of Princeton. In fact, there's scant evidence that Alito was even a member of the group -- except for the fact that he himself claimed he was in a memorandum written about 20 years ago.
Still, I'm troubled by three things in all this: that Alito could have been a member of such an exclusionary group in the first place; that he saw fit to brag about being a member to win favor with the right-wing hard-liners in the Reagan Justice Department, many of whom took on the dismantling of affirmative action programs as a pet project; and that he refuses to own up to this now by claiming that he doesn't remember the first thing about the group.
That, I don't like.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail is email@example.com .