It should come as no surprise that Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. is under fire for his position on abortion (he’s apparently against it). After all, there are few national issues as controversial as abortion rights – and few political events as prone to explosive debate as the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice. The nagging detail here is where Alito’s alleged position surfaced: a 20-year-old job application.
According to the LA Times (which has a PDF of the 1985 application) Alito applied for a position in the Justice Dept during the Reagan era. In the application, Alito appears to make clear his position on “racial and ethnic quotas” and abortion rights, both of which he was “proud” to have argued against during his career. Now, ignoring that these are hot-button issues (flamers: I’m not making any political statements here) does anyone else find it chilling that a job application you filled out years before Michael Jackson’s “Bad” ever hit the charts can come back to haunt you?
Of course, this is not the first job application to rear up out of the filing cabinet and give someone a paper cut. It’s not uncommon to hear about people being fired for lying on their application – even years after the fact (one recent online discussion here). Opinions, however, unlike lies, are generally more flexible; we bend them over time, we change them outright. Most of the time, our less fashionable ones conveniently vanish.
But as the digital age unfolds, the job applications that folks file today will be increasingly searchable in the future. Beyond important ethical violations (say, lies about one’s alma mater) better technology will mean that even the opinions and minor brown nosing of an eager 22-year-old college grad applying to work in the mail room may someday be searchable with the touch of a key. (Add blog entries to that pile; once the information out there, it’s out there.)
While it probably took some decent reporting work to dig up Alito’s old job application — at the very least, someone (or someone’s intern) had to read through piles of old carbon copies — that era is ending. With each new day, we have faster access to more information. I think we can all agree that the benefits overwhelm any drawbacks. Just don’t change your mind.