Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. (/əˈliːtoʊ/; born April 1, 1950) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served on the court since January 31, 2006.
Raised in Hamilton Township, New Jersey and educated at Princeton University and Yale Law School, Alito served as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before joining the Supreme Court. He is the 110th justice, the second Italian-American, and the eleventh Roman Catholic to serve on the court.
Alito is considered "one of the most conservative justices on the Court". He has described himself as a "practical originalist". Alito's majority opinions in landmark cases include McDonald v. Chicago and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Early life and education
Alito was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Samuel A. Alito, Sr., an Italian immigrant, and the former Rose Fradusco, an Italian-American. Alito's father, now deceased, was a high school teacher and then became the first Director of the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, a state government position he held from 1952 to 1984. Alito's mother is a retired schoolteacher.
Alito grew up in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, a suburb of Trenton. He attended public school at Steinert High School in Hamilton Township and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1972 before attending Yale Law School, where he served as an editor on the Yale Law Journal and earned a Juris Doctor in 1975.
At Princeton, Alito chaired a student conference in 1971 called "The Boundaries of Privacy in American Society" which, among other things, supported curbs on domestic intelligence gathering and anticipated the need for a statute and a court to oversee national security surveillance. The conference report itself also called for the decriminalization of sodomy, and urged for an end to discrimination against gays in hiring by employers. "Though Alito's name is attached to the chair's report, it remains unclear to what extent the report represented his personal opinions. Alumni, who served as 'commissioners' for the junior conference Alito chaired, offered conflicting information on how best to interpret the report." He also led the American Whig-Cliosophic Society's Debate Panel during his time at Princeton.
While a sophomore at Princeton, Alito received a low lottery number, 32, in the Selective Service drawing on December 1, 1969. In 1970, he became a member of the school's Army ROTC program, attending a six-week basic training camp that year at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Alito was a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which was formed in October 1972 at least in part to oppose Princeton's decisions regarding affirmative action. Apart from Alito's written 1985 statement of membership of CAP on a job application, which Alito says was truthful, there is no other documentation of Alito's involvement with or contributions in the group. Alito has cited the banning and subsequent treatment of ROTC by the university as his reason for belonging to CAP.
During his senior year at Princeton, Alito moved out of New Jersey for the first time to study in Italy, where he wrote his thesis on the Italian legal system. Graduating in 1972, Alito left a sign of his lofty aspirations in his yearbook, which said that he hoped to "eventually warm a seat on the Supreme Court".
He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps after his graduation from Princeton and assigned to the United States Army Reserve. Following his graduation from Yale Law School, he served on active duty from September to December 1975. The remainder of his time in the Army was served in the inactive Reserves. He was a captain when he received an honorable discharge in 1980.
Early legal career
After graduating from Yale Law School in 1975, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal, Alito clerked for Third Circuit appeals judge Leonard I. Garth in Newark, New Jersey in 1976 and 1977. He interviewed with Supreme Court Justice Byron White for a clerkship but was not hired. Between 1977 and 1981, Alito was Assistant United States Attorney, District of New Jersey. While serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, he prosecuted many cases that involved drug trafficking and organized crime.
From 1981 to 1985, Alito was Assistant to Solicitor General Rex E. Lee. Alito argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court for the federal government during his tenure as assistant to the Solicitor General. From 1985 to 1987, Alito was Deputy Assistant Attorney General with Douglas Kmiec in the Office of Legal Counsel during the tenure of Edwin Meese. In his 1985 application for Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Alito espoused conservative views, naming William F. Buckley, Jr., the National Review, Alexander Bickel, and Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign as major influences. He also expressed concern about Warren Court decisions in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment. From 1987 to 1990, Alito was United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
Court of Appeals judge
Nomination and confirmation
Alito was nominated by President George H. W. Bush on February 20, 1990, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, to a seat vacated by John Joseph Gibbons. Alito was rated by the American Bar Association as "Well Qualified" at the time of his nomination. He was confirmed by unanimous consent in the Senate on April 27, 1990, and received his commission three days later. As a Third Circuit judge, his chambers were in Newark, New Jersey.
- On a Third Circuit panel, the majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey overturned one part of a law regulating abortion, the provision mandating that married women first inform their husbands if they sought an abortion. Alito, the third judge on the panel, disagreed, arguing that he would have upheld the spousal notification requirement along with the rest of the law.
- A dissenting opinion in United States v. Rybar, 103 F.3d 273 (3d Cir. 1996), arguing that a U.S. law banning private citizens from owning submachine guns was similar to one struck down by the Supreme Court in United States v. Lopez and thus outside the authority of Congress under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
- A majority opinion in Chittister v. Department of Community & Economic Development, 226 F.3d 223 (3d Cir. 2000). This case concerned an employee's claim of wrongful termination under the Family and Medical Leave Act against the state of Pennsylvania. States are free to maintain sovereign immunity under the U.S. Constitution. Since Pennsylvania had maintained its immunity to such suits, Alito affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the employee’s claims.
- A majority opinion in Saxe v. State College Area School District, 240 F.3d 200 (3d Cir. 2001), holding that a public school district's anti-harassment policy was unconstitutionally overbroad and therefore violated First Amendment guarantees of free speech.
- A majority opinion in ACLU v. Schundler, 168 F.3d 92 (3d Cir. 1999), holding that a government-sponsored holiday display consisting solely of religious symbols was impermissible, but that a mixed display including both secular and religious symbols was permissible if balanced in a generally secular context.
- A dissenting opinion in C. H. v. Oliva et al. (3d Cir. 2000), arguing that the removal and subsequent replacement in "a less conspicuous spot" of a kindergartener's religious themed poster was, at least potentially, a violation of his right to free expression.
- The sole dissenting opinion in Snyder v. Phelps, 131 S. Ct. 1207 (2011), involving picketers at a military funeral. Alito states that "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case."
- A dissenting opinion in Doe v. Groody, arguing that qualified immunity should have protected police officers from a finding of having violated constitutional rights when they strip-searched a mother and her ten-year-old daughter while carrying out a search warrant that authorized the search of a residence.
- A unanimous opinion in Chadwick v. Janecka (3d Cir. 2002), holding that there was "no federal constitutional bar" to the "indefinite confinement" of a man imprisoned for civil contempt because he would not pay his $2.5 million debt to his wife.
- A majority opinion in Williams v. Price, 343 F.3d 223 (3d Cir. 2003), granting a writ of habeas corpus to a black state prisoner after state courts had refused to consider the testimony of a witness who stated that a juror had uttered derogatory remarks about blacks during an encounter in the courthouse after the conclusion of the trial.
- A dissenting opinion in Glass v. Philadelphia Electric Company, 34 F.3d 188 (3rd Cir. 1994), arguing that a lower court did not abuse its discretion in excluding certain evidence of past conduct that defendant had created a hostile and racist work environment.
- A majority opinion in Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286 (3rd Cir. 1997), rejecting a female police officer's Equal Protection-based sexual harassment and retaliation claims against the city and certain police officials and rejecting her Title VII-based retaliation claim against the city, but allowing her Title VII-based sexual harassment claim against the city.
Since 1985, Alito has been married to Martha-Ann Alito (née Bomgardner), once a law librarian, who met Alito during his many trips to the library as a law clerk; she has family roots in Oklahoma. They have two grown children: Philip and Laura. Alito resided with his family in West Caldwell, New Jersey before his Supreme Court nomination. He has since moved to a home in Washington, D.C.
In 2013, as part of the ongoing fallout from the Edward Snowden case, it was revealed by former National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice that during 2002 and 2003 Judge Alito's phones, as well as his staff and his family were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency.
Alito is an avid baseball fan and a long-time fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. He delivered the Supreme Court Historical Society’s 2008 Annual Lecture "The Origin of the Baseball Antitrust Exemption," which was also published in two journals.
As adjunct professor at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark from 1999 to 2004, Alito taught courses in constitutional law and an original course on terrorism and civil liberties. In 1995, Alito was presented with the school's Saint Thomas More Medal, "in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of law". On May 25, 2007, he delivered the commencement address at Seton Hall Law's commencement ceremony and received an honorary law degree from the law school.
He has been a member of the Federalist Society, a group of conservatives and libertarian lawyers and legal students interested in conservative legal theory.
As a visiting professor at Duke University School of Law, Alito taught Current Issues in Constitutional Interpretation in fall 2011 and a course in the Master of Laws in Judicial Studies program in summer 2012.
Nomination to U.S. Supreme Court and confirmation hearings
On July 1, 2005, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court effective upon the confirmation of a successor. President George W. Bush first nominated John Roberts to the vacancy; however, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died on September 3, Bush withdrew Roberts' nomination to fill O'Connor's seat and instead nominated Roberts to the Chief Justiceship. On October 3, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace O'Connor. Miers withdrew her acceptance of the nomination on October 27 after encountering widespread opposition.
On October 31, President Bush announced that he was nominating Alito to O'Connor's seat, and he submitted the nomination to the Senate on November 10, 2005. Alito was unanimously rated "well qualified" to fill the Associate Justice post by the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary, which measures the professional qualifications of a nominee. The committee rates judges as "not qualified", "qualified", or "well qualified".
Alito's confirmation hearing was held from January 9 to 13, 2006. On January 24, his nomination was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 10–8 party line vote. Democratic Senators characterized Alito as a hard right conservative in the mold of a Clarence Thomas or Robert Bork. Alito professed reluctance to commit to any type of ideology, stating he would act as an impartial referee. On the abortion issue, he stated that he would look at that with an open mind but would not state how he would rule on Roe v. Wade if that issue were to come up before the court. Some pro-life activists, however, claim Alito's confirmation as a victory for their cause.
Democrats on the committee grilled Alito on his past association with the conservative group Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Alito stated that he had listed an affiliation with the group on his application to Ronald Reagan's Justice Department in order to establish his conservative credentials: "You have to look at the question that I was responding to and the form that I was filling out... I was applying for a position in the Reagan administration. And my answers were truthful statements, but what I was trying to outline were the things that were relevant to obtaining a political position." During the confirmation hearings, Alito disavowed the group, whose views were criticized as racist and sexist, saying: "I disavow them. I deplore them. They represent things that I have always stood against and I can't express too strongly." During Alito's Senate confirmation hearings, his wife, Martha Ann Alito, broke into tears after Republicans expressed their disapproval of how Alito was being characterized by some Democrats on the panel.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) formally opposed Alito's nomination. The ACLU has only taken this step two other times in its entire history, the last time being with the nomination of Robert Bork who was rejected by a 58–42 vote in the Senate. In releasing its report on Alito, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero justified the decision saying that "At a time when our president has claimed unprecedented authority to spy on Americans and jail terrorism suspects indefinitely, America needs a Supreme Court justice who will uphold our precious civil liberties. Alito's record shows a willingness to support government actions that abridge individual freedoms."
Debate on the nomination began in the full Senate on January 25. After a failed filibuster attempt by Senator John Kerry, on January 31, the Senate confirmed Alito to the Supreme Court by a vote of 58–42, with four Democratic senators voting for confirmation and one Republican and an Independent voting against. Alito's confirmation vote was the second lowest on the current court, where he is surpassed only by Clarence Thomas who was confirmed 52–48. Alito became the 110th justice, the second Italian-American, and the 11th Catholic in the history of the Supreme Court, and the fifth Catholic on the Court at the time he assumed office.
U.S. Supreme Court career
Because Alito joined the court mid-term, he did not participate in the decisions of most of the early cases in the court term because he had not heard arguments for many of these early cases which had yet to be decided. Most of these decisions were released without his participation (i.e., with an 8-member Court); none were 4–4, so Alito would not have been the deciding vote in any of them if he had participated. Only three of these cases – Garcetti v. Ceballos, Hudson v. Michigan, and Kansas v. Marsh – were re-argued, since a tie needed to be broken.
Alito delivered his first written opinion on May 1, 2006 in the case Holmes v. South Carolina, a case involving the right of criminal defendants to present evidence that a third party committed the crime. (Since the beginning of the Rehnquist Court, new justices have been given unanimous opinions to write as their first majority court opinion, often done as a courtesy "breaking in" of new justices, so that every justice has at least one unanimous, uncontroversial opinion under his/her belt). Alito wrote for a unanimous court in ordering a new trial for Bobby Lee Holmes due to South Carolina's rule that barred such evidence based on the strength of the prosecution's case, rather than on the relevance and strength of the defense evidence itself. His other majority opinions in his first term were in Zedner v. United States, Woodford v. Ngo, and Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy.
In his first term, Alito voted fairly conservatively. For example, in the three reargued cases (Garcetti v. Ceballos, Hudson v. Michigan and Kansas v. Marsh), Alito created a 5–4 majority by voting with four other conservative Justices – Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas. He further voted with the conservative wing of the court on Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon and Rapanos v. United States. Alito was also a dissenter in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, alongside Justices Scalia and Thomas.
Alito is considered "one of the most conservative justices on the Court". However, while his voting record is conservative, he does not always join the most conservative Justices on the Court. On February 1, 2006, in Alito's first decision sitting on the Supreme Court, he voted with the majority (6–3) to refuse Missouri's request to vacate the stay of execution issued by the Eighth Circuit for death-row inmate Michael Taylor; Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas were in favor of vacating the stay. Missouri had twice asked the justices to lift the stay and permit the execution. Alito has also dissented from the Supreme Court's conservative justices on notable free speech cases, one of which, Snyder v. Phelps, had to do with Westboro Baptist Church members' right to protest a military funeral. Alito offered the sole dissenting opinion, describing his view by saying protesters "were sued under a very well-established tort that goes back to the 19th century, the intentional infliction of emotional, of severe emotional distress. And I thought that this tort constituted a reasonable exception to the First Amendment, but my colleagues disagreed about that."
In 2003, Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which led to a lawsuit in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart. The Court had previously ruled in Stenberg v. Carhart that a state's ban on partial birth abortion was unconstitutional because such a ban did not have an exception in the case of a threat to the health of the mother. The membership of the Court changed after Stenberg, with John Roberts and Samuel Alito replacing William Rehnquist (a dissenter in Roe) and Sandra Day O'Connor (a supporter of Roe) respectively. Further, the ban at issue in Gonzales v. Carhart was a federal statute, rather than a state statute as in the Stenberg case.
On April 18, 2007, the Supreme Court handed down a decision ruling constitutional the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the five-justice majority that Congress was within its power to generally ban the procedure, although the Court left open the door for as-applied challenges. Kennedy, writing for the court, implied but did not absolutely reach the question whether the Court's prior decisions in Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and Stenberg v. Carhart were valid, and instead the Court said that the challenged statute is consistent with those prior decisions whether or not those prior decisions were valid.
Alito joined fully in the majority as did Chief Justice Roberts. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Scalia, contending that the Court's prior decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey should be reversed, and also noting that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act may exceed the powers of Congress under the Commerce Clause. Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy did not join that assertion. Justices Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, and Stevens dissented, contending that the ruling ignored Supreme Court abortion precedent.
Moreover, despite having been at one time nicknamed "Scalito," Alito's views have differed from those of Scalia (and Thomas), as in the Michael Taylor case cited above and various other cases of the 2005 term. Scalia, a fierce critic of reliance on legislative history in statutory interpretation, was the only member of the Court in Zedner v. United States not to join a section of Alito's opinion that discussed the legislative history of the statute in question. In two higher-profile cases, involving the constitutionality of political gerrymandering and campaign finance reform (LULAC v. Perry and Randall v. Sorrell), Alito adopted narrow positions, declining to join the bolder positions advanced by either philosophical side of the Court. According to a scotusblog.com analysis of 2005 term decisions, Alito and Scalia concurred in the result of 86% of decisions (in which both participated), and concurred in full in 75%.
In the 2007 landmark free speech case Morse v. Frederick, Alito joined Roberts' majority decision that speech advocating drug use can be banned in public schools, but also warned that the ruling must be circumscribed that it does not interfere with political speech, such as the discussion of the medical marijuana debate.
Alito's majority opinion in the 2008 worker protection case Gomez-Perez v. Potter cleared the way for federal workers who experience retaliation after filing age discrimination complaints to sue for damages. He sided with the liberal bloc of the court, inferring protection against retaliation in the federal-sector provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act despite the lack of an explicit provision concerning retaliation.
- Legal Memo written while working in the United States Solicitor General's office regarding the Fleeing felon rule. (May 18, 1984) (PDF)
- 'Personal Qualifications Statement' when applying to be an Assistant Attorney General under Pres. Ronald Reagan. (November 15, 1985)
- Legal Memo written as Deputy Asst. Attorney General to the OMB’s General Counsel regarding OMB authority of FDIC funds. (1986) (PDF)
- House Committee on the Judiciary testimony regarding unpublished court opinions. (1990) (PDF)
- 2003 Financial Disclosure
- 2004 Financial Disclosure
- Response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire (November 30, 2005) (PDF), (Appendix1 Appendix2 Appendix3 Appendix4)
- Bazelon, Emily (October 31, 2005). "Alito v. O'Connor". Slate.
- "Bush choice sets up court battle". BBC.
- Collins, Ronald K.L. (October 31, 2005). Judge Alito: fairly strong on free expression.
- Collins, Ronald K.L. (November 3, 2005). Alito as government lawyer: '84 broadcast-regulation case.
- Davis, Elliott M. (Summer 2007). The Newer Textualism: Justice Alito's Statutory Interpretation. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy
- Dickerson, John (October 31, 2005). "Ready To Rumble". Slate.
- Federal Judicial Center. Judges of the United States (official curriculum vitae).
- Hook, Janet (November 1, 2005). "Bush's Supreme Court Nominee: A Phillies Fan With Blue-Chip Legal Stats." Los Angeles Times. P. A1.