IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Alito strong conservative on liberal court

Samuel A. Alito has been a strong conservative jurist on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a court with a reputation for being among the nation’s most liberal.
Judge Samuel Alito listens as President Bush, not pictured, announces him as his Supreme Court nominee Monday at the White House.Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. doesn’t spend all his time with his nose in a law book.

He’s said to be a gourmet cook, interested in tennis and music, an ardent fan of baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies.

He was born on April Fool’s Day to a mother who was candid enough to tell the world he was upset that he didn’t get the Supreme Court nomination a month ago.

He did get it Monday, chosen by President Bush to take the place of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

He’s made his mark as a conservative judge on a court with a reputation for being among the nation’s most liberal. He’s even been dubbed “Scalito,” suggesting his opinions on the high court could echo those of Antonin Scalia on the court’s right edge.

Indeed, Alito has seemed destined to be an appeals court judge, the job he’s had for the past 15 years, if not a justice on the Supreme Court, the highest appellate court in the land.

Colleagues describe him as smart, hardworking, polite.

“Unlike many of the rest of us, he is actually capable of sitting at his desk for a long time and thinking about hard legal issues,” says attorney Paul Fishman, who once ran Alito’s criminal division at the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey.

Started appeals work under Bush Sr.
Even as an assistant prosecutor decades ago, Alito ended up assigned to appeals work because it suited him so well, former associates say.

Alito, 55, was named by the president’s father to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in 1990.

He came to Washington at the start of the Reagan administration, first as assistant to the solicitor general, sometimes arguing cases before the Supreme Court, then as deputy attorney general. He went back home to New Jersey in 1987 to be U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, where his first assistant was Michael Chertoff, now the Homeland Security secretary.

His New Jersey ties run deep. The son of an Italian immigrant, he was born in Trenton and attended Princeton University. He headed to Connecticut to receive his law degree, graduating from Yale University in 1975.

Alito joined the Army ROTC at Princeton. In 1972, one year before the military draft ended but while the Vietnam War was still raging, he was one of nine in his class to receive a commission in the Army Reserve. He was discharged in 1980 as a captain.

He and his wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, have two children, a college-age son, Philip, and a younger daughter, Laura. His late father, Samuel Alito Sr., was the director of New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services from 1952 to 1984.

Recent financial gains
Alito’s net worth got a major boost last year when a family friend died and left him Exxon Mobil Corp. stock worth between $100,000 and $250,000, according to his 2004 financial disclosure statement.

Alito did not disclose the name of his benefactor, and White House officials could not immediately provide the identity. The oil company stock raised the value of Alito’s holdings at the end of 2004 to between $615,000 and $1.6 million. Five years earlier, his disclosure form valued his holdings at between $455,000 and $1.17 million.

O’Connor, whom Alito would replace, listed holdings worth between $2.7 million and nearly $6 million in her 2004 disclosure statement.

Alito’s mother, Rose, who will turn 91 in December, spent Monday fielding congratulatory telephone calls from her home in Hamilton, N.J., a Trenton suburb. “I’m so excited I can’t even express myself,” she said.

More blunt than her son might wish, she said, “I think he was upset that he didn’t get there in the first shot, that Miers got it.” That was a reference to Bush’s choice of Harriet Miers, since withdrawn.

‘Of course he’s against abortion’
If confirmed, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court. “Of course he’s against abortion,” his mother said, another comment supporters in Washington might wish she’d held back.

On the bench, Alito is known to be probing, but more polite than the often-caustic Scalia.

Among his noteworthy appeals court opinions was his lone dissent in the 1991 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the 3rd Circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.

In 2000, though, Alito joined the majority that found a New Jersey law banning late-term abortions unconstitutional. In his concurring opinion, Alito said the Supreme Court required such a ban to include an exception if the mother’s health was endangered.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, struck down the spousal notification, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist quoted from Alito’s opinion in his dissent.

Former appellate judge Timothy Lewis, who served with Alito, has ideological differences with him but believes he would be a good justice.

“There is nobody that I believe would give my case a more fair and balanced treatment,” Lewis said. “He’s open-minded, he’s fair and he’s balanced.”

In a May 2005 profile in The Newark Star-Ledger, Alito said, “Most of the labels people use to talk about judges, and the way judges decide (cases) aren’t too descriptive. ... Judges should be judges. They shouldn’t be legislators, they shouldn’t be administrators.”