A quiet, careful, conservative nominee

November 01, 2005|By STEPHANIE DESMON AND ROBERT LITTLE | STEPHANIE DESMON AND ROBERT LITTLE,SUN REPORTERS

Samuel Anthony Alito Jr., from early in his judicial career, has been likened to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia -- they're both Italian-Americans, both born in Trenton, N.J., both cut from a conservative cloth. In liberal circles where it isn't meant as a compliment, Alito long ago earned the nickname "Scalito," literally translated as "Little Scalia."

So yesterday, when Alito was introduced as President Bush's nominee to replace retiring Sandra Day O'Connor on the same bench as Scalia, the comparisons began anew.

Those on the left quickly pointed to what they consider Alito's highly conservative views, particularly his dissent in a prominent Pennsylvania case in which he would have required a woman to notify her husband before getting an abortion.

"There will be no one to the right of Sam Alito on this court," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley predicted on the Today show.

But former colleagues and clerks, those who are most familiar with his decisions and the way he arrived at them, said yesterday that the Sam Alito they know, though certainly a conservative, is no ideologue. And, unlike the brash Scalia, they say, he is a soft-spoken man who wouldn't yell at the umpire at his son's Little League games when he thought a bad call was made.

Charles Fried, a former U.S. solicitor general who worked in that office with Alito in the early 1980s, said his colleague wasn't the type to push an agenda.

"I'm a great admirer of Nino Scalia, but Sam is not Nino Scalia," Fried said. "[Scalia] has a rigorous or rigid ideology. Sam does not. Nino Scalia is dramatic and flashy. Sam is modest and careful. They're just two different people."

Neighbors in the town of West Caldwell, N.J., say they hardly knew Alito was a judge, let alone that he was under consideration for the Supreme Court.

"Until today I didn't know he was that high up the ladder," said Joyce Pressler, who lives two doors down from the Alitos and described them as "wonderful neighbors, quiet people."

Alito met his wife, Martha-Ann, at the U.S. attorney's office, where she was a research librarian. Friends describe her as being as outgoing and extroverted as Alito is reserved.

Despite his hard-driving legal career, Alito has always carved out time for his children, coaching his son's Little League team and driving his daughter to swim practice when they were younger. His daughter, Laura, is now 17; his son, Philip, is 19.

A few years ago, Alito's wife set up a vacation for him at a fantasy baseball camp, where he got to rub elbows with some of his beloved Philadelphia Phillies. He even had baseball cards made with his own image, holding a bat and "looking serious," said Carter G. Phillips, a Washington lawyer who has known Alito for years.

Alito, if confirmed, would come to the job with a wealth of experience unusual in a man of 55, including 15 years on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. He has been a federal prosecutor and a White House lawyer, and argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court when he worked for the solicitor general.

He has written hundreds of opinions and participated in thousands of appeals, a stark contrast with Bush's previous nominee, Harriet E. Miers, who was criticized for her lack of judicial credentials and constitutional expertise.

"Even on the bench there's a range in terms of raw intellect, and he is the cream of the judicial crop," said Jay T. Jorgensen, a partner in a Washington law firm who clerked for Alito in 1997-1998. "He's very fair and very impartial. As a result, I don't know what his personal views are ... because he doesn't inject his personal beliefs into the law."

"There's no doubt in my mind that he's well within the mainstream of American opinion," though he trends to the right, said Washington attorney Nathan Sheers, a Democrat who was an Alito clerk in 1992-1993.

Unlike Miers and, to a lesser extent Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Alito arrives at the nomination process with an expansive record of judicial writings touching on many of the nation's more delicate and controversial legal topics.

From his seat on the 3rd Circuit, Alito has written scores of opinions related to such issues as abortion rights, discrimination law, immigration and religion.

In his deliberate, often sterile writing style, Alito has written the resume of a dependable judicial conservative.

In one of his more prominent opinions, in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito disagreed with the majority of the 3rd Circuit and argued in favor of a Pennsylvania law requiring women to notify their husbands before receiving an abortion.

In Doe v. Groody, a case involving four police officers who strip-searched a mother and her 10-year-old daughter while looking for narcotics, Alito again dissented from the majority to argue that the suspects' rights were not violated though they were not named in a search warrant.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.