Michael Meckler: Princeton Group Linked To Alito Much Ado About Nothing

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Michael Meckler is a journalist and historian who lives in Columbus.]

During the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, much has been made of his membership in the group Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Senators repeatedly have discussed the nature of this organization, and pundits have speculated about the group and its aims. The problem with nearly all of the talk about Concerned Alumni of Princeton is the failure to talk to actual alumni of Princeton from the 1970s and 1980s.

About 20,000 of us attended Princeton University as undergraduates during the time that the organization was in existence. I entered Princeton in 1983, so I was a student there when Alito revealed his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton on his job application in 1985 to become a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.

By the early 1980s, Concerned Alumni of Princeton was considered a joke by most undergraduates. It appeared to us to be a small group of elderly, reactionary fuddy-duddies who nostalgically romanticized their own college days back in the 1920s.

The guiding force behind the group was Shelby Cullom Davis, who graduated from Princeton in 1930. He was a Wall Street financier and close friend of Thomas Dewey, the New York governor who famously lost the 1948 presidential election to Harry Truman.

The group published a magazine, Prospect, which was distributed free to students. Copies were slipped under the doors of dorm rooms. The organization tried to get students to write for Prospect, but, as I recall, very few did. The lack of student interest compelled the group to hire as editor Dinesh D'Souza, who had recently graduated from Dartmouth University D'Souza had gained national notoreity among conservatives for his provocative work with the alternative student newspaper Dartmouth Review.

The fact that Concerned Alumni of Princeton had to hire someone from Dartmouth to give voice to their opinions reveals how marginal the group was among students and recent alumni.

The overwhelming majority of Republicans and conservatives on campus at that time - and there were plenty of right-wing students at Princeton during the Reagan years - would have nothing to do with the group or its magazine. Prospect ran provocative stories about the wanton ways of co-eds and how the children of alumni did not get enough preferential treatment in admission, but these issues seemed out of touch and offensive even to conservative students.
Alito's involvement with Concerned Alumni of Princeton, whatever that involvement may have been and however long it lasted, cannot be viewed with the same weight as his 15 years of service in the federal judiciary in determining his fitness today to serve on the Supreme Court. In 1985, when Alito was touting his membership, Concerned Alumni of Princeton was a discredited, barely functioning organization that Princeton students and recent alumni generally treated as joke.

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Lisa Kazmier - 1/22/2006

I gotta say this article is very disappointing. This is much ado about nothing because other students thought it was a joke? Isn't the question what is says about Alito for joining (or being associated with, putting his association on the RR application) this "marginal" group of right wingers out of touch with the merits of women and minorities pushing aside the Old Boy system?

That's the point. If Princeton students thought it was marginal, why did Alito associate himself with the group? This article is VERY disappointing because I thought it was going to show us how innocuous the group was or how flimsy Alito's 'membership' was (if he had personal knowledge, which the author confesses not to have and which Sen. Specter seems not to have wanted to investigate). The article addresses neither question.

Indeed, if anything, it makes Alito's affiliation all the more curious and all the more worthy of understanding, i.e., investigating, which it seems no one, including this author, has done.

Maia Cowan - 1/21/2006

The reason Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton is significant is not that he was a member, in and of itself, but that he described the membership in his application for a job with the Reagan Administration as if it were a job qualification.

That, and the fact that all these years later, he's being disingenuous about his membership to the point of outright dishonesty. As with most of the other issues raised during his nomination hearing, what Alito said in respons to questions reveals him as a world-class weasel. We don't need weasels deciding the course of our democracy.