OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 15 (JTA) Burned by the fallout from its perceived endorsement of John Roberts’ Supreme Court nomination this summer, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is playing it safer on Judge Samuel Alito. At its Boston biennial this month, the Conservative group shot down a last-minute attempt to force it to take a stand on Alito’s candidacy. His confirmation hearings are scheduled for January. Several hundred convention delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution reaffirming a woman’s right to a halachically-permitted abortion, but voted down an amendment dealing with judicial nominees. The Resolution on Reproductive Choice calls on the USCJ to “register its opinion on court cases and administrative agency actions (and any government action)” that might impact a woman’s access to an abortion that she and her rabbi have deemed is in accordance with Jewish law. An amendment that would have forced the USCJ to take a stand on judicial nominations as well was defeated by a show of hands. Nancy Kaplan of West Bloomfield, Mich., who proposed the controversial amendment, says its defeat will allow Conservative leaders to avoid taking a stand on Alito. “Now they can say, ‘We can’t come out against Alito because our lay people said we can’t say anything,’ ” she said. Bill Bresnick of Potomac, Md., co-chair of the USCJ committee on public policy and social action, says the amendment would have tied his committee’s hands. The language “would have required us to take a position on judicial nominations,” Bresnick said, adding that his committee “doesn’t feel it appropriate” to endorse or oppose particular individuals on the basis of how it imagines they might later rule. Bresnick said he doesn’t expect the Conservative movement to make a declaration on Alito’s candidacy. The Union for Reform Judaism, by contrast, passed a resolution opposing Alito at its November biennial. It was Bresnick’s committee that in August declared John Roberts “qualified” for the Supreme Court because he “eschews an ideologically defined approach to judicial interpretation and shows a balanced respect for foundational documents and societal realities.” That public statement was widely seen as an endorsement of Roberts by a small committee acting in the name of the entire Conservative movement. Ironically, it was the first test of the USCJ’s new rating system for judicial nominees based on legal rather than political considerations. No other Jewish stream came out for or against Roberts, though several groups, including the National Council of Jewish Women, publicly opposed his nomination, and the Reform movement issued a statement expressing its “strong concern” about some of Roberts’ positions. Delegates at the USCJ biennial, speaking against the judicial nominee amendment, warned that if it passed the movement would suffer the same criticism and internal divide as it did after the Roberts “endorsement.” The Roberts statement “led to great debate within our movement,” said Wendy Glasser of Saratoga, Calif., who said she was “worried about politicizing the issue.” After the amendment’s defeat, Kaplan said she was disappointed. “I was trying to say, if we’re on the record as opposing legislation that would have an adverse impact on a woman’s right to a halachic abortion, then we should oppose anything that is a threat, and that has to include someone on the Supreme Court that opposes abortion,” she said.
Conservatives play it safe on Alito