“But is it good for the Jews?” That was the question many of our grandparents voiced when they perused the morning papers — a question we may have dismissed, even with affection, as a narrow or parochial expression. Today, we know that what’s “good for the Jews” extends beyond ourselves: It encompasses a concern for the well-being of society as a whole and the fate of our constitutional freedoms. After all, we Jews are unquestionably part of the general community, thriving largely thanks to the protections afforded to us as a minority religion.
For the National Council of Jewish Women, this has led us to take sides in the national debate on the direction of our courts, which are the guardians of our liberty and our well-being as Jews and as Americans. And it has led us to oppose the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito Jr. to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
When a Supreme Court nominee decides that the First Amendment permits the majority religion to impose its beliefs and symbols on the rest of us in the public square — it’s not good for the Jews.
When he reveals his lifelong ambition to overturn the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, preventing a woman from following her conscience and religious beliefs when exercising her legal right to choose abortion — it’s not good for the Jews.
And, when he consistently rules against victims of employment discrimination, narrowing civil rights protections — that too isn’t good for the Jews.
Judge Alito has a record of conservatism that is far to the right of our national consensus. He’s the candidate President Bush promised us when he said in 2000 that he would appoint justices like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
By his own account in 1985, Judge Alito entered law school “motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the area of criminal procedure, the Establishment clause, and reapportionment.”
Further clarifying his views on the Supreme Court’s past decisions regarding religion, in November 2005 he told his supporter, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), that these rulings “were incoherent in this area of the law in a way that really gives the impression of hostility to religious speech and religious expression.”
Alito’s judicial record supports this statement. He disagreed with the majority of the 3rd Circuit when it decided that students could not include a prayer in their graduation programs simply because they had voted to have one.
He also argued that public-school teachers could be forced to distribute materials of the Child Evangelism Project for their weekly after-school meetings. In contrast, the Supreme Court concluded that religious meetings may be held on school grounds only “where no school officials actively participate.”
As for a woman’s right to choose an abortion, Judge Alito’s views seem oblivious to the religious convictions of others. His hostility to the right to choose has been unwavering.
While working in the Solicitor General’s office, Alito wrote a 17-page memo on using Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as an “opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime, of mitigating its effects.” He later expressed pride in his role in that case.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he wanted to uphold a requirement that a woman notify her husband before obtaining an abortion, a proposition Justice O’Connor and the majority rejected, declaring “A State may not give to a man the kind of dominion over his wife that parents exercise over their children.”
His strategy of pressing for more and more restrictions on Roe clearly became the ongoing strategy of the anti-choice movement — a movement that would restrict religious freedom by imposing one religion’s view on all women.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism recently repeated its support for legislation “maintaining the legality and accessibility of abortion so that in those cases where our religious authorities determine that an abortion is warranted halachically, obtaining that abortion will not be hindered by our civil law.” It’s clear that as a Supreme Court judge, Alito would threaten this principle.
So, what is “good for the Jews?” It’s a Supreme Court committed to upholding the rights and liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights, to upholding the letter and spirit of pluralism and to upholding basic values of inclusion and fairness.
The protections we seek as members of a minority religious group cannot exist in a vacuum, but only in the context of a larger society in which everyone’s rights and liberties are protected. For that reason, the National Council of Jewish Women urges all Jews and Jewish organizations to join with us in the fight to defeat Alito’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land.
Phyllis Snyder is president of the National Council of Jewish Women.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.