WASHINGTON - As a young government lawyer opposed to abortion rights, Samuel Alito argued for a legal strategy of chipping away at the landmark Supreme Court ruling rather than mounting an all-out assault likely to inflict a defeat on the Reagan administration, according to documents released Wednesday.
"No one seriously believes that the court is about to overrule Roe v. Wade," the current Supreme Court nominee wrote in an internal Justice Department memo on May 30, 1985. Referring to a high court decision to review two abortion-related cases at the time, he asked, "What can be made of this opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling ... and in the meantime, of mitigating its effects."
The memo was among several hundred pages of documents dating from Alito's 1981-1987 tenure in the Justice Department, released on the day the Supreme Court heard arguments in an abortion case for the first time in five years.
The argument before the justices Wednesday concerned the validity of a New Hampshire law that requires a parent to be told before a daughter ends her pregnancy.
While no ruling in the current case is expected for months, the case will provide the first indication of Chief Justice John Roberts' views on abortion cases, and possibly a last word from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She has been the swing vote in the past on rulings that upheld abortion rights, and Alito's nomination as her replacement has raised the stakes for his confirmation battle.
Apart from the release of Reagan-era records from the National Archives, the White House made public Alito's answers to a questionnaire from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel plans confirmation hearings beginning Jan. 9, and majority Rep-ublicans hope for a final vote on his nomination on Jan. 20.
Asked to provide his views on judicial activism, Alito, 55 and a veteran of 15 years on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote that the courts "must engage in a constant process of self-discipline to ensure that they respect the limits of their authority."
Judges must "have faith that the cause of justice in the long run is best served if they scrupulously heed the limits of their role rather than transgressing those limits in an effort to achieve a desired result in a particular case," he added.
On another matter, Alito stepped carefully around his one-time membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a conservative organization that sparked controversy two dec-ades ago by saying school officials had lowered admission standards to accept women and minority applicants.
"A document I recently reviewed reflects that I was a member of the group in the 1980s. Apart from that document, I have no recollection of being a member, of attending meetings or otherwise participating in the activities of the group," he wrote the Senate.