NBC's Pete Williams falsely suggested Alito followed O'Connor precedent in upholding spousal notification

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN & ROB MORLINO

NBC correspondent Pete Williams falsely claimed that Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. was following Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's precedent in his dissent in favor of spousal notification in an abortion-rights case and that O'Connor subsequently "changed her mind." In fact, that case, upon its appeal to the Supreme Court, was O'Connor's first ruling on spousal notification.

Defending Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s dissent in the abortion-rights case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams falsely suggested that Alito had simply followed the lead of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor but that O'Connor then "changed her mind" on the constitutionality of spousal notification requirements. In fact, the Casey decision was O'Connor's first ruling on spousal notification, which came after Alito dissented in Casey. Alito, therefore, could not have based his dissent on O'Connor's rulings on spousal notification, nor did O'Connor's ruling in Casey represent a reversal on her part.

Discussing Alito's judicial record on abortion during the January 8 edition of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, New York Times White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller said that O'Connor "thought [spousal notification] was an undue burden on women, and she took a different position than Alito on this."

Williams countered: "But she changed her mind. And you could argue that Judge Alito, when he voted to uphold this Pennsylvania provision, was following Justice O'Connor's earlier rulings. She then changed her mind and said, you know, this is -- this is an undue burden."

But at the time when Alito wrote his dissent for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, O'Connor had yet to address the question of the constitutionality of spousal notification requirements. In reaching separate conclusions about how the Supreme Court would rule on the provision, the 3rd Circuit majority in Casey and Alito's dissent in that case both relied on O'Connor's rulings on other types of abortion restrictions.

The Supreme Court upheld the 3rd Circuit's ruling in Casey that the Pennsylvania spousal notification requirement created an undue burden on women seeking abortions. O'Connor ruled with the majority in determining that spousal notification requirements were "likely to prevent a significant number of women from obtaining an abortion." The court wrote, "It does not merely make abortions a little more difficult or expensive to obtain; for many women, it will impose a substantial obstacle."

From the January 8 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:

BUMILLER: I will speak and just remind people that Sandra Day O'Connor, the centrist on the court who Alito is replacing, thought this was an undue burden on women, and she took a different position than Alito on this. That --

WILLIAMS: But she changed her mind. And you could argue that Judge Alito, when he voted to uphold this Pennsylvania provision, was following Justice O'Connor's earlier rulings. She then changed her mind and said, you know, this is -- this is an undue burden.

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