As a judge of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for sixteen years, Alito established a reputation as a hard-working, highly competent, and generally conservative judge. When he replaced the moderate swing voter, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, on the Court, most observers expected that his tenure would move the Court in a more conservative direction.
The mother of Samuel A. Alito, Jr., mother was a schoolteacher and his father, having left Italy as a child, was a teacher before becoming New Jersey’s director of legislative services. During his youth, Alito was studious and ambitious. In 1972, he received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. While an undergraduate, he was an active member of the university’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, He then attended the Yale Law School, where he served as editor of the Yale Law Journal and completed his J.D. degree in 1975.
After his graduation, Alito worked as law clerk for a judge of the Third Circuit, while also finding time to serve in the Army Reserve as second lieutenant of Signal Corps. From 1981 to 1987, he held several high positions in the Department of Justice, in which he enthusiastically defended the conservative policies of President Ronald Reagan. Over the next three years Alito served as U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey and prosecuted many organized crime and drug trafficking cases. In 1990, he became an appellate judge on the Third Circuit, a position he still held when President George W. Bush named him to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on October 31, 2005.
At the time of Alito’s nomination, the Supreme Court was frequently polarized between liberal and conservative justices, especially on the controversial issues of abortion, affirmative action, the establishment clause, and criminal procedures. Because Justice O’Connor sometimes voted with the four more liberal members of the Court, liberal groups feared that the addition of Alito would likely move the Court in a right-wing direction. Organizations devoted to abortion
When journalists and organizations searched for materials about Alito’s judicial philosophy, they discovered a paper trail of complexity. As a student at Princeton, Alito had led a student conference that called for curbs on domestic spying and had urged for an end to discrimination against homosexuals. Shortly after graduation, however, he had joined the conservative Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), which published articles expressing reactionary views about race and gender. Liberals were especially concerned to learn that he had referred approvingly his CAP membership when applying for a job in the Reagan administration. It was not clear, however, whether he had mentioned this organization out of conviction or because he thought it would help his chances of employment.
As a judge on the Third Circuit, Alito had to follow the binding precedents established by the Supreme Court, and in this capacity it was difficult to know his views on those precedents. When examining abortion
Although Alito is generally classified as conservative, some commentators have said that he is not easy to label. In the area of free speech rights, his record tended to be left of center. In the case of Saxe v. School District
Alito’s Senate confirmation hearings were held from January 9 until January 13, 2006. In contrast to the recently held hearings for the new chief justice, John Roberts,
Like almost all other candidates to the Court, Alito said that the need to maintain impartiality kept him from revealing how he would decide cases likely to come before the Supreme Court, especially on the delicate issue of abortion. Concerning the principle of stare decisis,
On January, 2006, the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Alito
s nomination by a 10-8 vote that followed party lines. When debate began in the full Senate, Senator John Kerry
By February of the same year, Alito was participating in the court’s decisions. Having joined the Court in mid-term, he had not heard the arguments of many cases and thus was not able to vote. On May 1, he delivered his first written opinion in the case Holmes v. South Carolina,
During this first half term, Alito usually joined with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who were usually recognized as the two most conservative justices. A quantitative study found that he agreed with Thomas in 83 percent of the cases, whereas he voted with the more liberal justice, John Paul Stevens, in only 23 percent of the cases. In decisions made with 5-4 votes, he was on the same side as the four more conservative members 15 percent more often than Justice O’Connor
Allen, Mike. et al. “How Alito Looks Under the Lens,” Time, November 14, 2005, 28-32. Dworkin, Ronald. “The Strange Case of Judge Alito,” New York Review of Books, February 23, 2006, 31-36. Gunther, Marc. “Judging Alito,” Fortune, January 16, 2006, 133-134. Taylor, Stuart, and Evan Thomas. “Keeping It Real,” Newsweek, November 14, 2005, 22-28.
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
Hudson v. Michigan
Nominations to the Court
O’Connor, Sandra Day
Senate Judiciary Committee