Campus newspapers aren’t generally known for making waves inside the Beltway. Recently, however, the Daily Princetonian published a story that merits attention from senators gearing up for the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito, George W. Bush’s nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. As Chanakya Sethi reported in a November 18 article for the paper, in 1985 Princeton graduate and conservative Republican Alito sought to impress his colleagues in the Reagan Administration, where he was applying to become deputy assistant attorney general, by touting his membership in an organization called Concerned Alumni of Princeton.
Launched in 1972, the year Alito graduated, CAP had an innocuous-sounding name that disguised a less benign agenda, which included preventing women and minorities from entering an institution that had long been a bastion of white male privilege. In a 1973 article in Prospect, a magazine CAP published, Shelby Cullom Davis, one of its founders, harked back to the days when a gathering of Princeton alumni consisted of “a body of men, relatively homogeneous in interests and backgrounds.” Lamented Cullom Davis: “I cannot envisage a similar happening in the future with an undergraduate student population of approximately 40% women and minorities, such as the Administration has proposed.” Another article published that same year bemoaned the fact that “the makeup of the Princeton student body has changed drastically for the worse” in recent years–Princeton had begun admitting women in 1969–and wondered aloud what might happen if the university adopted a “sex-blind” policy “removing limits on the number of women.” In an unsuccessful effort to forestall this frightening development, the executive committee of CAP published a statement in December 1973 that affirmed unequivocally, “Concerned Alumni of Princeton opposes adoption of a sex-blind admission policy.”
By the time Alito was readying his 1985 job application with the Reagan Administration, the admission of women and minorities was well established at Nassau Hall, but this did not stop CAP from lamenting the consequences. “People nowadays just don’t seem to know their place,” fretted a 1983 Prospect essay titled “In Defense of Elitism.” “Everywhere one turns blacks and hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they’re black and hispanic, the physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports, and homosexuals are demanding that government vouchsafe them the right to bear children.” By this point the editor of Prospect was Dinesh D’Souza, who brought to its pages a new level of coarseness aimed at those who did not know their place. “Here at Princeton homosexuals are on the rampage,” complained a 1984 news item in Prospect–this after a gay student group had dared to protest being denied permission to hold a dance at a campus club. Another article poked fun at Sally Frank, a Princeton alumna who was suing the university for denying women access to all-male eating clubs. It noted that a Rhode Island woman who’d won a discrimination suit against a mining company had subsequently died in an on-the-job accident. “Sally Frank, take note,” it quipped.
Some argue that Alito’s membership in the organization hardly proves he shared such views. “It would be outrageously inaccurate to say Sam was deeply involved in the group, and he certainly wasn’t in charge of choosing the articles,” T. Harding Jones, who edited Prospect during the 1970s, told me, adding that CAP’s main goals were strengthening the alumni’s voice and championing a more ideologically balanced curriculum. Diane Weeks begs to differ. Weeks graduated from Princeton three years after Alito did and went on to work with him as an assistant US Attorney in New Jersey. In an interview she took pains to stress that she considers Alito “a man of integrity” with a first-rate legal mind. But, she added, “when I saw CAP on that 1985 job application, I was flabbergasted. I was totally stunned. I couldn’t believe it.” CAP, she said, “made it clear to women like me that we were not wanted on campus. And he is touting his membership in this group in 1985, thirteen years after he graduated. He’s not a young man by this point, and I don’t buy for a second that he was doing it just to get a job. Membership in CAP gives a good sense of what someone’s personal beliefs are. I’m very troubled by this, and if I were on the Senate I would want some answers.”
She is not alone. On the same day the article in the Daily Princetonian appeared, People for the American Way requested access to the records of CAP currently stored at the Library of Congress, in the archive of former National Review publisher William Rusher, so that the full story of its formation and, perhaps, of Alito’s role in it can be learned. In the meantime, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee might take the time to leaf through some of Prospect‘s back issues and formulate questions for the candidate. Is the Princeton graduate slated to replace the first female Supreme Court Justice proud of his affiliation with an organization that attempted to prevent women and minorities from receiving the same education he did? If not, why did he flaunt his membership in it? What does this say about his character, and about the kind of place he would ultimately like America to be?