Samuel Alito on Principles & Values

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. George W. Bush 2005)


Former New Jersey U.S. Attorney (1987-1990)

In a state where law, politics, crime, and headlines create a powerful alchemy, there is no appointed post more powerful or sought after than the US Attorney. On top of everything else the position has going for it, US Attorney is one of only a tiny handful of jobs with statewide authority. NJ, because of its compact geography and its past as a small population bedroom for NY and Philadelphia, has only one Justice Department district. So the US Attorney is the undisputed top federal law enforcement official in the state. It is a perch from which many have graduated to lucrative legal practices and judgeships, including a spot on the US Supreme Court (Justice Samuel Alito is a former NJ US Attorney). And it's the place that revived Chris Christie's dead political career.
Source: The Jersey Sting, by Sherman & Margolin, p.255 , Apr 10, 2012

OpEd: Painfully shy; but can explain views to non-lawyers

[Bush Supreme Court nominee] Harriet Miers could see she would get approved only with a tremendous expenditure of the president's political capital--and even then confirmation was unlikely. On Oct. 27, she withdrew her name. Bush nominated Judge Samuel Alito. Alito had impeccable credentials as a conservative jurist and the outside groups were as enthusiastic about Alito as they had been wary of Miers.

My dominant impression from his interview with the vetting group was that he was painfully shy. The poor man was shaking when he came into the dining room at the vice president's residence. There was nothing we could do to put him at ease. He just sat there twitching, sweating, and visibly distraught. But boy, was he smart. Alito's answers demonstrated he had a brilliant mind and deep legal wisdom. He was so good at explaining his views that even a non-lawyer like me understood what he was saying without feeling talked down to. Alito was never in trouble, given the obvious power of his intellect.

Source: Courage and Consequence, by Karl Rove, p.423-424 , Mar 9, 2010

Strongly supported by religious conservatives

By the time of Bush's election in 2000, religious conservatives were fully integrated into the party structure. They became precinct chairmen and county chairmen and dominated the apparatus of the party in states across the country. Their influence within the party reached a high point during Bush's presidency, symbolized by Bush's assiduous courtship of them and by the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices in 2005, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, whom they strongly supported.

Another moment that spring illustrated the power of the religious right, but in a way that would cost the Republicans. Congress passed legislation ordering federal courts to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman, after state courts had authorized doctors to remove her feeding tube. If the Roberts and Alito nominations showed the long-lasting influence of the religious right on the country's politics, the Schiavo episode showed the dangers of overreaching.

Source: The Battle for America 2008, by Balz & Johnson, p.231-232 , Aug 4, 2009

Pledge of recusal does not last for 12 years

SEN. HATCH: This business with Vanguard, when you signed that back in 1990, 12 years before the matter for which you are being criticized -- that particular statement said will you, during your “initial service.” You’ve just honestly explained that basically you made a mistake. But the fact of the matter is that “initial service” doesn’t mean 12 years away, does it, when there’s no chance in the world that you could ever receive any monetary benefit from Vanguard?

ALITO: Well, I don’t think initial service means 12 years away.

HATCH: Neither do I and neither does anybody who cares about justice and what’s right in this matter.

SEN. KENNEDY: When you made a pledge to the committee that you were going to recuse yourself, I’d just like to know how long that was going to be. Was that going to be two years, was it going to be five years?

ALITO: Senator, I did not rely on that time limitation. I would say that 12 years later is not the initial period of service.

Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 11, 2006

Constitution doesn’t change but the factual situations do

I think the Constitution is a living thing in the sense that matters, and it sets up a framework of government and a protection of fundamental rights that we have lived under very successfully for 200 years. And the genius of it is that it is not terribly specific on certain things. It sets out some things are very specific, but it sets out some general principles and then leaves it for each generation to apply those to the particular factual situations that come up.
Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 10, 2006

All the courts should be insulated from public opinion

Judges should do what the law requires in all instances. That’s why the members of the judiciary are not elected. We have a basically democratic form of government, but the judiciary is not elected so that they don’t do anything under fire. The legitimacy of the court would be undermined in any case if the court made a decision based on its perception of public opinion. It should make its decisions based on the Constitution & the law. It should not sway in the wind of public opinion at any time
Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 10, 2006

1960s Princeton: “privileged people behaving irresponsibly”

[I was an undergraduate at Princeton] in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities. And I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly. And I couldn’t help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community.
Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 9, 2006

Good judges can change their minds during a case

Good judges develop certain habits of mind. One of those habits of mind is the habit of delaying reaching conclusions until everything has been considered. Good judges are always open to the possibility of changing their minds based on the next brief that they read, or the next argument that’s made by an attorney who’s appearing before them, or a comment that is made by a colleague during the conference on the case when the judges privately discuss the case.
Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 9, 2006

Attorneys want results; judges want only the rule of law

I’ve learned a lot during my years on the 3rd Circuit, particularly, I think, about the way in which a judge should go about the work of judging. I’ve learned by doing, by sitting on all of these cases. When I became a judge, I stopped being a practicing attorney. And that was a big change in role. The role of a practicing attorney is to achieve a desirable result for the client in the particular case at hand. But a judge can’t think that way. A judge can’t have any agenda, a judge can’t have any preferred outcome in any particular case and a judge certainly doesn’t have a client. The judge’s only obligation -- and it’s a solemn obligation -- is to the rule of law. And what that means is that in every single case, the judge has to do what the law requires.
Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 9, 2006

Pledges to administer justice without respect to persons

It’s been a great honor for me to spend my career in public service. It has been a particular honor for me to serve on the court of appeals for these past 15 years, because it has given me the opportunity to use whatever talent I have to serve my country by upholding the rule of law. And there is nothing that is more important for our republic than the rule of law. No person in this country, no matter how high or powerful, is above the law, and no person in this country is beneath the law. Fifteen years ago, when I was sworn in as a judge of the court of appeals, I took an oath. I put my hand on the Bible & I swore that I would administer justice without respect to persons, that I would do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I would carry out my duties under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. And that is what I have tried to do to the very best of my ability for the past 15 years. And if I am confirmed, I pledge to you that that is what I would do on the Supreme Court.
Source: Sam Alito 2006 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 9, 2006

Conflict-of-interest recusals only apply to“initial service”

Senate Democrats have asked why Alito ruled in cases involving Vanguard Group, where he holds mutual funds, and Smith Barney, his brokerage firm, though he pledged in 1990 to disqualify himself from matters involving those companies. Sen. Arlen Specter (R, PA) asked Alito to publicly respond to the questions.

“I have not ruled on a case for which I had a legal or ethical obligation to recuse myself during my 15 years on the federal bench,” Alito wrote to Specter. Alito said his 1990 judicial confirmation promise was intended to avoid conflicts during his “initial service” on the bench.

Later, he reassessed his position because he “realized that I had been unduly restrictive on my 1990 questionnaire because there was not a legal or ethical obligation to recuse myself from every case involving the companies I listed.”

Alito didn’t mention another explanation that he has previously given: that a “glitch” in a computer program designed to alert judges to conflicts failed to alert him.

Source: Bloomberg News, “Vanguard Case” , Nov 11, 2005

Adherent of Reagan’s philosophical views

I am and always have been a conservative and an adherent to the same philosophical views that I believe are central to [Reagan’s] Administration. It is obviously very difficult to summarize a set of political views in a sentence but, in capsule form, I believe very strongly in limited government, federalism, free enterprise, the supremacy of the elected branches of government. and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values.
Source: Alito’s application for Deputy Assistant Attorney General , Nov 15, 1985

Life-long registered Republican and conservative donor

As a federal employee subject to the Hatch Act for nearly a decade, I have been unable to take a role in partisan politics. However, I am a life-long registered Republican and have made the sort of modest political contributions that a federal employee can afford, to Republican candidates and conservative causes, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, [and numerous Republican candidates for state and federal office].
Source: Alito’s application for Deputy Assistant Attorney General , Nov 15, 1985

Conflict-of-interest recusal missed due to computer glitch

Alito faced questions on his handling of a Vanguard case. A White House spokeswoman said, “Judge Alito wrote in his 1990 Senate Judiciary questionnaire that he would follow the law with regard to recusing himself from cases. He followed the law, as he had no financial stake in the matter.”

But in the questionnaire Alito added specific companies he would avoid as a judge. “I would disqualify myself from any cases involving the Vanguard companies, the brokerage firm of Smith Barney,” he wrote.

In the Vanguard case, a woman challenged Alito’s participation when she learned of his interest in Vanguard. In response, Alito said he did not believe he had to step aside, but would because it was his practice to do so when any “question might arise.”

Alito blamed a computer “glitch” for assigning him a case he shouldn’t have heard. Alito has not said why, when he saw Vanguard was in the case, he didn’t recuse himself before a petition asked him to.

Source: Tom Brune, Newsday ,

States cannot sue each other over eased voting rules.

Justice Alito wrote the concurrence on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton: "TX v. PA, GA, MI & WI" on Dec 11, 2020:

Summary of lawsuit, Dec. 7:: The 2020 election suffered from significant and unconstitutional irregularities including:

Supreme Court Order, Dec. 11: The State of Texas's motion is denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution. Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections. All other pending motions are dismissed as moot.

Texas Tribune analysis, Dec. 11:: Trump--and Republicans across the country--had pinned their hopes on the Texas suit. In a series of tweets, Trump called it "the big one" and later added, "it is very strong, ALL CRITERIA MET." If the court had heard the case, Sen. Ted Cruz said he would have argued it, at the request of Trump.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas indicated they would have allowed Texas to bring the case but said they would "not grant other relief." In a series of tweets after the ruling, Trump raged against the decision, which he called "a disgraceful miscarriage of justice."

Source: Supreme Court case 20-SCOTUS argued on Dec 7, 2020

Other Justices on Principles & Values: Samuel Alito on other issues:
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Amy Coney Barrett(since 2020)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Neil Gorsuch(since 2017)
Ketanji Brown Jackson(nominated 2022)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Brett Kavanaugh(since 2018)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)

Former Justices:
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(1993-2020)
Anthony Kennedy(1988-2018)
Antonin Scalia(1986-2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
David Souter(1990-2009)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
William Rehnquist(1975-2005)

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Page last updated: Mar 21, 2022