WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito is considered likely to win a seat on the Supreme Court after confirmation earlier this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But many young Americans, not content to sit on the sidelines and watch the proceedings, have spent the weeks leading up to the confirmation hearings making their opinions known. The committee okayed Judge Alito on a straight line party vote, 10-8.
"[The pending nomination of Samuel Alito] is a momentous and historical event. No matter what happens, people want to be a part of it and be on record," said Latifa Lyles, National Organization for Women (NOW) vice president for membership and one of the organizers of Enraged and Engaged, NOW's campaign to bring people from all over the country to Washington, D.C. to protest Alito's nomination.
Part of the campaign involved mobilizing college students during winter break, asking them to come to Washington and protest. Students have come from more than 35 states to meet with their senators, deliver letters from constituents and work phone banks trying to get their message to voters as well as senators.
"The idea was to evoke nostalgia from people who know of the civil rights movement," Lyles said. "A lot of people have responded."
Young Alito advocates have also gone to Washington to support their cause. In addition to working with their chapters to contact U.S. Senators and write editorials in local newspapers, members of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) attended last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings where Alito was questioned by senators on that committee.
"It was a great opportunity for us to hear Judge Alito speak for himself in response to the grilling questions," CRNC Chairman Paul Gourley said. "It solidified our confidence in the job he will do as a United States Supreme Court Associate Justice."
Gourley said a key part of his organization's support of Alito was to empower the more than 200,000 CRNC college members to speak out.
"We have a broad base to draw a successful effort. Supporting President Bush's nomination of Judge Alito was no exception," Gourley said.
The issues that have brought young people to support and oppose Alito are varied.
Supporters of Alito applaud his years of service as a Federal Appeals Court judge and his character.
"We're very impressed by his track record," said Young Republicans National Federation Chairman Nicolee Ambrose. "No matter what sort of judges he's worked for, everyone has attested to his strength of character."
Opponents, however, are afraid that Alito may endanger a woman's right to choose [an abortion] and the rights of both men and women to contraception in general. They cite his upholding of a Pennsylvania law requiring a woman seeking an abortion to notify her husband.
"It sounds scary and outlandish, but that's why a lot of students are here," said Lyles.
Christa Wencl, a graduate student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, decided to come to Washington, D.C. for her winter break to help with NOW's campaign. Within hours of arriving, she had visited her state's senators and delivering petitions opposing Alito's nomination.
"I came here because I know something about Alito and I've been watching the hearings and I don't think he should be confirmed," Wencl said.
Students have been asked by NOW to come to D.C. whenever they can and to stay as long as is convenient for them. The result is a constant wave of young people descending on the capitol.
"Everyone is from somewhere different. It's amazing," she said.
The sentiment that young people must stand up and be heard on the nomination has been echoed by Alito's supporters and protesters.
"[Alito] will sit on the bench through vital years of our up-and-coming generation. Today's College Republicans will be entering the work force, establishing careers, and starting families, all under this next justice's term," Gourley said.
Lyles said NOW and other organizations recognize the power of young voters as a group, and smart politicians do as well.
"Any good aggressive political campaign always targets young people," she said. "People are looking for the young voters. You have a lot of power as a young voter."
Wencl said as a young activist herself, she hopes other young voters will recognize the power they have.
"I think activism is extremely important for young people," she said. "It's very empowering and I think the country is better run with people who can form opinions and talk and really know what they want."
- By Kate Cooper Medill News Service