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Contrasting senate vs. public opinion on ALITO

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Q: Does public sentiment agree with the views expressed by Senator’s during Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearings?


A: When measuring public sentiment on Samuel Alito, we found a discrepancy between the concerns expressed by the public and the questions presented by Senators during his confirming hearing. The following report highlights these contrasts.


The Public Opinion

Public Concern 1 – Retain legal tradition

From 1981 to 1985 Samuel Alito worked as an Assistant to the Solicitor General. The Solicitor General’s office argues for the U.S. Government in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the case of Tennessee v. Garner, a 15 year-old was shot while evading arrest for a suspected burglary. The child’s father sued the government, and Alito was asked if the government would be able to defend such a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In his role as Assistant to the Solicitor General, Alito wrote a memo, which says: “a fleeing suspect in effect states to the police: ‘Kill me or let me escape the legal process, at least for now.’” A Computer Intuition analysis of message boards on the topic of Alito’s nomination reveals that the public strongly disagrees with Alito. In the words of the message post with the second highest psytensity: “Samuel Alito should not be a judge in this country; to say that anyone is justified in killing a 15 year old kid … has a very demented view of life and the law.” Ironically, Alito’s version of “the legal process” argues in favor of a dramatic reduction in the rights of suspects, supporting a circumvention of the court system, in this case by executing a suspect without a trial or conviction.


Public Concern 2 – Retain strong Federal court system

Another issue revealed by the Computer Intuition program is the perception that Justice Alito will fundamentally alter the U.S. Supreme Court. The analysis of message boards on Alito assigned the highest psytensity rating to concerns of a perceived “meltdown” of the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court. Concerns about Alito’s confirmation affecting the role of the U.S. Supreme Court are revealed in the language of postings. The posts suggest that people are more worried about a new and different court system, wherein the judicial authority of the U.S. Supreme Court is diminished. The public is not as concerned about a right to abortion, as they are uncertain at the prospect of an evolving judiciary. For example, overturning Roe v. Wade would place the determination of a woman’s reproductive rights in each state’s Supreme Court. The public is not concerned with the loss of abortion rights, but with the “meltdown” of unforeseen effects of a decentralized legal system.


The Senate Opinion

The most important issues according to the members of the Judiciary Committee include a woman’s reproductive freedom among other individual freedoms, judicial activism and restraint, and the limits of presidential authority. The Senate Judiciary Committee attempts to represent the concerns of their constituents. However, our textual analysis of internet message boards indicates that the concerns of politicians are different than the concerns of the public.


The Contrast

The Senate seems concerned about freedom of choice. The public believes that even if Roe v. Wade is overruled, each state’s Supreme Court will step in and secure this freedom. Hence, the public does not believe that the freedom of choice is in any danger. However, the public is concerned with the unforeseen effects to the judicial system after the potential overruling of Roe v. Wade.


The U.S. Senate cares about individual freedom, such as the citizen’s right to life. The public is concerned with Alito’s position that police should execute a fleeing suspect rather than let him escape the legal process. The public believes that such a policy removes a person from the court system and thus circumvents the court system. Removing a suspected criminal from the court system by executing him not only destroys the rights of the individual, it eliminates any sense of justice for all of American society. Hence the public feels that a person advocating for the circumvention of the court should not be a judge. While the Senate argues over personal freedom, the public is concerned with retaining the fundamental principles of their traditional Federal justice system.


About Computer Intuition

Computer Intuition is a psycholinguistics based program that reveals the feelings of the public by calculating the psychological intensity, or psytensity, of text. The analysis of message board postings about the nomination of Samuel Alito is only meant to provide information on public sentiments. It is not a suggestion for political action or a value judgment.



If you have a suggestion for further research, or another issue to be analyzed with Computer Intuition, please send us an email to suggestions@hyperintuition.com . Please include the URL for the message board that discusses this issue.

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Guest Let Freedom Ring

Ironically, Alito’s version of “the legal process” argues in favor of a dramatic reduction in the rights of suspects, supporting a circumvention of the court system, in this case by executing a suspect without a trial or conviction.


You might be right about this. The NY Times reports:


Mr. Kennedy expressed concern that in his 1985 memorandum Judge Alito had cited as a major influence Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, which Mr. Kennedy said “featured strong opposition to civil rights.”


I am just worried about Alito's pre-judge history of defending domestic wiretaps and advocating presidential signing statements suggests deference to the executive.

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