The forces that molded Judge Alito
Family and the law figure prominently in shaping the character of court nominee.
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Alito's reticence makes it almost impossible to tell how and where his conservatism was shaped - and even how conservative he may be. A rare break in that nonpartisan posture came 20 years ago when Alito was applying for a job in the Reagan administration. "I am and always have been a conservative," his cover letter began. He detailed his admiration for the writings of William F. Buckley and his opposition to many of the liberal rulings of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren. He emphasized that it was his strong personal belief that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."Skip to next paragraph
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Last week, the judge backed away from those comments, saying he was "an advocate seeking a job" 20 years ago and is now older and wiser.
In addition to the 1985 cover letter, supporters and detractors are poring through his extensive record on the federal bench - participation in some 3,500 decisions, including 300 opinions written by him - to draw a bead on his politics.
In the meantime, there appears to be no shortage of Alito supporters - from his hometown of Hamilton Township to the halls of the US Attorney's Office in Newark, N.J., and the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
"Judge Alito really is a wonderful person, a terrific guy," says Monica Dolin, who was an Alito law clerk in 1993-94 and who says she's a registered Democrat. "I'm not positive what kind of justice he is going to be, but I trust him enormously."
Ms. Dolin is among a group of former Alito clerks who signed a letter to the US Senate urging his confirmation. Of the 54 clerks Alito has hired since 1990, all but three signed the letter. (The three said such an endorsement would conflict with job obligations.)
One potential bump on Alito's road to confirmation is whether he failed to abide by a 1990 pledge to recuse himself from deciding cases involving a mutual fund, a brokerage house, and his sister's law firm.
Alito has denied any wrongdoing. "To my knowledge I have not ruled in a case for which I had a legal or ethical obligation to recuse myself," he wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. "I am proud of the record I have established during my 15 years on the federal bench, not only in terms of my jurisprudence but my integrity."
The issue is likely to arise again during his confirmation hearing in January. Associates and long-time friends say ethics questions about Alito are a nonstarter.
"I've seen him under stress when difficult decisions needed to be made, and in every instance his views were informed not only by his extensive learning, high intelligence, and wit, but also [by] bedrock decency and honesty," says Rabinowitz, the Yale classmate and former colleague.
As a student at Yale Law School Alito was known to prefer studying over socializing, living a conservative lifestyle. "He didn't drive flashy cars or go out dancing all night. He went home and studied," says Mark Dwyer, a classmate at Princeton and Alito's roommate at Yale Law.
Bill Agress, who hasn't seen Alito since 1966 when they were debate team partners in high school, remembers something else. "We won most of our debates," he says. But "when we were doing research some people back then in high school played a little loose with the facts. Statistics suddenly changed," Mr. Agress says. "Sam would never do that. When Sam did the research the facts were the facts."
Such earnestness has not dampened Alito's sense of humor. When a neighboring judge in the federal court-house in Newark positioned a pair of ornamental lions in the hallway guarding the door to her chambers, Alito deployed plastic pink flamingos outside his chambers.