Thursday, January 12, 2006

Alito and the Concerned Alumni, again

I wrote earlier about "Alito's Mad-CAP Adventures," Judge Samuel Alito's association with the so-called Concerned Alumni of Princeton. As expected, the subject came up during Alito's confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.

CAP was an organization formed in 1972, disbanded in 1986, devoted to returning Princeton University to its "traditional" ways. Princeton went co-ed in 1969, and was also in the midst of a number of other transformations in the composition of its undergraduate body. Princeton, even into the 1950's, had a well-documented bias against Jews, and was generally a school where wealthy white men had little need (or opportunity) to mingle with other socioeconomic strata. Affirmative action, coeducation, and a consistent effort to recruit students from outside the northeastern prep-school circuit, all contributed to a campus where sons of wealthy alumni were routinely denied admission in favor of the unwashed masses with high SAT scores.

Although CAP was entirely and overwhelmingly anti-coeducation — contrary to the claims of people like former board member Judge Andrew Napolitano — its greatest complaint was in the decline of "legacy" admissions. Alumni children who had dutifully trudged off to hoity-toity boarding schools were being shoved aside in favor of women, Negroes, Jews, homosexuals, and (gasp!) public-school students with the academic merit but not the financial wherewithal — much less the family pedigree — to attend an Ivy League school.

I know rather a lot about CAP, particularly during the era when Sam Alito highlighted his membership as a qualification to work in the Reagan administration Justice Department, because I was a student at Princeton from 1981 to 1985, and copies of CAP's Prospect magazine were delivered gratis to the dorms. The undergrads greatly enjoyed reading Prospect, learning about a time when Princeton was all about making connections with your fellow future captains of industry, rather than about silly distractions like education. We also enjoyed reading some of the letters CAP members (most notably Charles Huber, class of 1951) wrote to the campus newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, or to the official alumni magazine, Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Judge Alito's explanation of his once-proud association with an organization he now shuns, is wholly unsatisfactory. In the mid-1980's, CAP was quite rightly viewed as sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, elitist, and generally completely out of touch with 20th-century reality. His membership in CAP is clearly a deep stain on Sam Alito's personal character, and it also casts into question his claims that his sympathies lie with working-class folks who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, since those people are the very ones CAP fought so hard to put back in their place. "Princeton Charlie" (the respectable but academically mediocre stereotypical student of days gone by) was not the son even of college-educated immigrants. In his opening statement, Judge Alito said, "I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly," but it was precisely those irresponsible privileged people that CAP sought to protect.

All the same, I believe that this issue is mainly a sidebar, a detail in the exploration of his personal character. It is my hope that the confirmation hearings will focus more directly on his judicial opinions, such as the controversial "strip-search of a 10-year-old girl" case, and to vital issues such as his views on the balance of power among the three branches of the federal government, as well as between the federal and state governments. Those are the issues that will ultimately mark whether Sam Alito is suitable for our nation's highest court.