The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Justice Alito to speak to Saint Mary’s grads

Katie Kohler | Friday, May 18, 2007

Saint Mary’s selection of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. to speak at Saturday’s graduation has sparked a backlash among some in the College community.

In a news release, College President Carol Ann Mooney said Alito’s acceptance of the College’s offer was “an honor,” but more than 60 seniors and professors are expected to participate in a silent protest during the commencement exercises Saturday.

Participants will be distributing yellow roses to audience members with the message “Remember the Women” and a quote from former College President Sister Madeleva Wolff: “Here is your profile. Here is your future. You are as fearless as you are good. Your faith has the long courage and the freedom of truth. Your education has been an education in truth. You go out today to face wrong everywhere, to take the longest strides your souls have ever taken.”

“In response to Justice Alito’s presence, College members have organized a respectful silent demonstration during the commencement exercises,” senior Kirsten Kensinger, one of the organizers of the protest, said in a statement. “It is in this spirit of a Saint Mary’s education that some demonstrating seniors will silently place their yellow rose on the stage as they move forward to accept their diplomas.”

In a formal statement to the College, participants said Alito has “consistently opposed concerns raised by women activists and, therefore weakened the necessary foundation of equality within our democratic system. While respecting Justice Samuel Alito as a person and honoring him as a member of the highest court in our land, those opposed feel we must take exception to his public record, which presents grave concerns for women, minorities, and the disabled, among others. … We must defend these values with integrity.”

The silent protest will not be the first demonstration by members of the senior class against the choice of Alito as the major graduation speaker. On March 8, Meaghan Herbst, who is president of the College Democrats, joined Allison Beyer and junior Giuliangela Rosato in submitting a formal letter addressed to Mooney with signatures from displeased students.

Alito, who graduated from Princeton University in 1972 and Yale Law School in 1975, is the 11th Catholic to serve on the Supreme Court and the 5th on the current Court.

Herbst said Alito has made many court rulings against women’s rights in terms of family and medical leave, violence and sexual harassment.

Herbst thought the College’s choice was not in alignment with Saint Mary’s mission.

“I couldn’t believe we would have someone so polarizing and misrepresenting of our mission at Saint Mary’s as our commencement speaker,” she said.

While many students are pleased that such a prominent speaker will be delivering the address, Beyer said, having a “big name” doesn’t guarantee the speaker identifies with the College.

The protest, the participants said, was not to change the speaker; they said they realized that Alito had already confirmed the engagement. The goal was to bring their dissatisfaction to the attention of the administration.

Mooney chose not to release a statement about the issue after the protest.

The majority of seniors seem to support Alito as the 2007 commencement speaker, as does Mooney.

Alito was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush and was sworn in on January 31, 2006. He previously served as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit as appointed by George H. W. Bush in 1990.

Alito has also served as assistant to Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, deputy assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese and as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.

Mooney recently worked as a committee member with Alito on the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. They became friends through their work together, Executive Assistant to the President Susan Dampeer said.

Soon thereafter, Alito cordially accepted the invitation to speak at commencement.

Alito will attend the Baccalaureate dinner and reception today before the commencement address at noon in the Court of LeMans Saturday.