Judging Alito
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Judging Alito
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Judging Alito

Can we ever escape our past?

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The recent questioning of Judge Samuel Alito has got me thinking about many things. One of the "issues" has been his membership many years ago -- about 20 I believe -- in a club at Princeton with some controversial tenets. I am certainly not qualified to comment on the implications, if there are any, of such a membership, but it got me wondering about whether or not we can ever escape our past. If we made a mistake 20 years ago, as a teen or young adult, are we doomed to be judged on it forever? And is it appropriate? With Google, any of our errors that received any type of publicity are accessible to anyone, anywhere. Is this good?

In Judaism, we believe in the possibility of and power of teshuva -- repentance and change. This is a gift that the Almighty as given us. We are not trapped or limited by our past. We can rise above and beyond it. We all made mistakes when we were younger (we may even still make some today!) but doesn't a crucial part of growth and maturity occur as we work our way through those painful experiences?

We are also taught that just as we judge others so the Almighty judges us. That argues for a very generous and forgiving position (Mr. Kennedy).

There is also a difference between mistakes of judgment due to immaturity and mistakes due to poor character.

There is also a difference between mistakes of judgment due to immaturity, limited experience and one too many college orientation events, and mistakes due to poor character.

Most of us eventually grow up and mature; our tastes, attitudes and behaviors are very different now than they were when we were 18. But character is harder to change. If someone was cruel 20 years ago, if they didn't put in a lot of hard inner work, chances are they're still cruel now (only in more subtle and devious ways). If someone was dishonest 20 years ago, chances are they're still dishonest (look for their name in the business fraud section of your local paper). If someone was always spreading rumors 20 years ago, they're probably still a gossip (and working for some Hollywood magazine!).

Change is certainly not impossible. Marriage, family, life's pain and challenges can shape us into deeper and more complex human beings. Perhaps we were angry young men (or women). We've calmed down. We've seen its destructiveness. We've learned to pull back from the brink. We've discovered that there are people and things more precious than ourselves, human beings and ideas for whom change, or at the very least, self-control, is worth it.

There are some people who have experienced true regret and have proactively made serious, deep-seated change.

Certainly our viewpoints have changed. (Note all the former sixties radicals now working on Wall Street!) Did Mr. Alito agree with the tenets of the Princeton club? Did he just join without thinking? Was it a lark? As sense of belonging?

It doesn't really matter. What matters is the decision he would make now, with maturity, with forethought, with patience and consideration. (Maybe that's why we slow down as we get older!)

We all have the opportunity to do teshuva, to erase the past. I don't think any of us should be judged on actions of 20 years ago (with limited exceptions like violent crimes). We should operate on the assumption that those around us have also grown and changed. The very assumption we want others to use when looking at us.

Published: January 28, 2006


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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Arnie Bernstein, February 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Change is as change does

I'd buy your arguement had it not been for Alito's actions in regard to CAP. He touted membership on his resume when applying for a job with the Reagan administration; when questioned about it by the Senate Judiciary members, Alito didn't recall belonging to the organization. Seems rather disengenious to me and a strong indication of Alito's true character.

(8) Lydia, January 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Teshuva depends on admission of guilt and asking for forgiveness from those you've wronged

The difference between Judaism and Christianity (well, one of them) is that Christianity gives you a savior who died for your sins and POOF you're redeemed. In Judaism, we're still waiting for our messiah and even then it will be necessary to ask for forgiveness, admit wrongdoing, and commit oneself to doing better in the future. Judge Alito has done absolutely none of those things, going so far as to say he doesn't remember whether he was involved in CAP. Is that enough for proper repentance according to Mrs. Braverman? I really hope not.

(7) Ralph Hatcher, MD, January 30, 2006 12:00 AM

alito and CAP

I agree with the sentiment expressed in your blog that we should allow for the possibility of growth and conversion, and not judge solely on an indiscretion of the past (I have many).

However, as Dinesh D'Souza has pointed out, the Concerned Alumni of Princeton were not opposed to admission of women and minorities, but to the lowering of standards that would allow some to be admitted who were not qualified. The CAP article referred to by Kennedy and others was a complete satire as any full reading of the piece reveals. Per course, Sen. Kennedy is again shown to be a disingenuous buffoon.

(6) Uriela Sagiv, January 29, 2006 12:00 AM

Just idly wondering

I am just idly wondering, if as a young man, Mr. Alito had been a member of a Neo-Nazi group instead of a club prejudiced against blacks (assuming the media is to be believed, that is) would it be as easy to say the above?

(5) Rachel Glyn, January 29, 2006 12:00 AM

Unfair characterization of Alito

This article characterizes Judge Alito unfairly. His association with the group in Princeton had to do with his concern about ROTC being forced off campus. It is the most scurrilous slander to say or suggest that he was ever involved with any anti-black or anti-woman movement. He has been a judge who was confirmed unanimously by some of the same Democrats who now want to tar and feather him. If these Senate Democrats were so alarmed at what a fascist pig they think he is, why is it, in 15 years that he's been a federal judge, have they never brought up a motion to impeach him? One of my husband's law partners knows Judge Alito personally. This partner is Jewish, a liberal Democrat, and knows many Democratic politicians as well, and he has spoken very highly of Judge Alito.
Judge Alito comes to the Bench with one agenda: to respect the Constitutional separation of powers and to interpret the law, not to proclaim the law to be what he (and the left wing of the Democratic party) thinks it ought to be. This is a threat to left wingers who want left wing activist judges to proclaim laws from the bench by fiat.
In particular, Judge Alito has stood up for Americans' first amendment religious freedom, something that Jews ought to appreciate in him.
Judge Alito does not have anything to do teshuva about, at least not with regard to his college days. I think that the author of this article certainly does, for suggesting that Alito did anything wrong. And why didn't she focus on Alito's Grand Inquisitor, that paragon of virtue, Ted Kennedy, who has continued his membership in the all male Owl Club until a few days ago, when it became public? What do you think Mary Jo Kopechne would have thought about it?

I am disgusted by the smears upon good people who are nominated to be judges and justices. These smears are cast by people who want no limits on any abortions for any reason. That is the bottom line. I think there is something profoundly wicked about the promotion of such unfettered access to abortions at any time for any reason, and I think it is disgusting that Jewish groups care more about legal abortions in the last trimester than they do about Israel's safety or the Jewish people's declining numbers.

These charges against Alito aobut the club at Princeton would not exist if he would proclaim that the US Constitution guarantees women a right to an abortion up to the moment when she gives birth. These slanders are just a bunch of lies coming fom people who lack basic decency.

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