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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Alito has no problem breaking a promise

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito does not feel ethically obligated to keep a promise.

How else can one explain Judge Alito's indefensible letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, in which he said: "To the best of my knowledge, I have not ruled on a case for which I had an ethical or legal obligation to recuse myself during my 15 years on the federal bench."

Judge Alito, sitting on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, declined to recuse himself from cases involving the Vanguard Group and Smith Barney Inc.

Yet Judge Alito had promised the Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearings in 1990 that he would not participate in cases involving the two investment firms, among other companies.

Judge Alito's explanation last week was disingenuous. Yes, he said, he did hear cases involving the companies. And yes, he had promised not to.

But, he said, that isn't really what he meant to promise.

"My intention was to state that I would never knowingly hear a case where a conflict of interest existed," Judge Alito said. "As my service continued, I realized that I had been unduly restrictive (in my promise)."

Judge Alito has made it clear that he has investments with Vanguard and Smith Barney, but holds no ownership interest with the companies.

Expecting a judge to recuse himself from a case based only on that relationship would be unreasonable. The judge stands to gain or lose little personally from the decision. It would be like asking a judge to recuse himself from every case involving his insurance company or the company that manufactured his car.

But it is not unreasonable to expect a judge to recuse himself from a case after he has promised the U.S. Senate to do so. Apparently, for Judge Alito, breaking a promise is not an ethical lapse.

We hope he takes his oath of office more seriously if confirmed.

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