Alito '72 nominated for Supreme Court seat
Samuel Alito '72, an experienced appeals court judge and New Jersey native, was nominated Monday by President Bush to replace Sandra Day O'Connor as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. The announcement came four days after Bush's previous nominee, Harriet Miers, withdrew amid heavy criticism.
Bush praised Alito for his extensive legal career and "mastery of the law."
"Judge Alito is one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America, and his long career in public service has given him an extraordinary breadth of experience," Bush said.
Speaking after the President, Alito said he was "deeply honored" to be nominated for a position on the Supreme Court, an institution he has "long held in reverence." He reflected on arguing his first case before the Supreme Court in 1982.
"I ... remember the relief that I felt when Justice O'Connor — sensing, I think, that I was a rookie — made sure that the first question that I was asked was a kind one," he said. "I was grateful to her on that happy occasion, and I am particularly honored to be nominated for her seat."
See all of the 'Prince' coverage of the Alito nomination here.
A 55-year-old native of Trenton, Alito currently serves on the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a seat to which he was nominated by President George H.W. Bush and confirmed unanimously in 1990.
Alito — whose 1972 Nassau Herald yearbook entry read: "Sam intends to go to law school and eventually to warm a seat on the Supreme Court" — would be the ninth Princetonian ever to serve on the Court if confirmed.
Classmates at Princeton described Alito, a member of ROTC who led Whig-Clio's Princeton Debate Panel, as intelligent and reserved with a dry sense of humor.
"Sam [Alito] has always been a very quiet guy," said Mark Dwyer '72, who was Alito's roommate for three years at Yale Law School. "He was quiet enough to be characterized as shy by people who didn't know him ... He's also very funny. That's not something you see in his public persona, but Sam has an advanced sense of humor."
David Grais '72, who roomed with Alito for three years at Princeton, said they were both "too studious for [their] good." But he, too, experienced his roommate's lighter side.
"One of our other roommates pulled some practical joke on Sam, which I do not remember," Grais said in an email. "The other guy drank scotch-on-the-rocks every night. Sam retaliated by putting salt in the water used to make ice cubes in the refrigerator in our room. The other guy went through a full bottle of terrible-tasting scotch before realizing that his ice cubes had been sabotaged."
Andrew Napolitano '72, a senior judicial analyst for Fox News and a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, said Alito hasn't changed much since their college years.
"He's a teetotalling, early-to-bed and early-to-rise legal scholar," Napolitano said. "He's modest, charming and brilliant ... There is no arrogance in Sam whatsoever."
Alito, a Wilson School major, excelled academically. He wrote his senior thesis, which is missing from University archives, on the Italian Constitutional Court. His adviser, Walter Murphy, the emeritus McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, called him "the most judicious student I ever had."
"He had (and still has) a keen intelligence and a fine sense of justice. He has been a fine judge, a person of deep integrity as well as intelligence." Murphy said in an email, adding that though he disagrees with his former student on important issues of constitutional interpretation, he hopes Alito will be confirmed.
University Provost Christopher Eisgruber '83, who met Alito when organizing a Princeton event, praised his qualifications. "In my view, he is exceptionally bright and decent, with a lot of relevant experience — a distinguished conservative," Eisgruber said in an email.
Alito was a member of Stevenson Hall, a University-sponsored alternative to the eating clubs which Grais described as "the main alternative to the private clubs for those of us who wanted a more egalitarian atmosphere."
At the time, the campus, and in particular Stevenson Hall, was known for political activism. Friends said that despite being in the minority for being a Nixon supporter and known conservative, Alito was well-regarded by his peers.
"He was well-respected throughout campus, certainly in the ROTC program," said Roland Frye '72, who was also in ROTC. Anti-war demonstrations marked their time at Princeton, and the 12 ROTC students in that class saw the ROTC office fire-bombed and the program moved off campus.
"We disagreed on just about everything politically, but he was never disagreeable," said Frederick Larson '73, who knew Alito through three years together on Whig Clio and two years at Yale Law School. "He was one of those guys that's obviously bright, obviously thoughtful even if you disagreed with him. But he was also a dedicated guy who wasn't resting on his intellect or brainpower."
Larson also recalled Alito as good-natured, saying, "He wasn't one to tell funny stories and stuff, but he was not a stick-in-the-mud kind of conservative."
Indeed, Alito had a profound influence on one of his friends on the debate team. "Sam always impressed me as a very studious, diligent, articulate guy," said Stephen Carlson '73, who went to Yale Law the following year. "When I was applying to law schools, I certainly was in part guided by where the people that I admired had decided to go to law school."
Though widely characterized as conservative, Alito's classmates said he was not politically active as a student.
"Other than that [Alito] is Republican, I have always thought him as rather apolitical," said David Grais '72, who roomed with him for three years at Princeton.
Alito was the lone dissenter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Third Circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.
"People somehow assume that he's stated that he's opposed to abortion," Dwyer said. "All he did then was examine the Supreme Court precedents in a very restrained fashion. He never expressed any personal views."
Dwyer also disagreed with Alito's nickname of "Scalito," which refers to his supposed similarity to conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
"[Alito] is involved in the philosophy of judicial restraint, and Scalia at least pretends to be involved as well, though I'm not so sure after reading some of his opinions," Dwyer said. "[But Alito's] track record throughout is going to be so solid that there's no way you can put any kind of ... label on him."
Dwyer and Grais both stressed that Alito decided cases according to the law rather than his own political views.
"I think his greatest strength is that he is a 'judge's judge,' not a 'politician's judge' — that is, a judge ... who has no general or overarching 'agenda,' Dwyer said. "This is what used to be called 'judicial temperament.' "
Napolitano, the Fox News analyst, agreed, saying that Alito's decisions generally seek to resolve disputes between parties rather than set precedents.
Napolitano also said he wasn't surprised that Bush chose Alito.
"Sam Alito is just what George Bush is looking for: a big government conservative who will almost always side with the government against the individual, and the federal government against the state," Napolitano said.
Napolitano said he was optimistic about Alito's chances of becoming a Supreme Court justice.
"I think Sam will be confirmed," Napolitano said. "He will come across as a less charming, less warm Roberts ... There's no way they'll filibuster."
In the nation's service
Becoming a lawyer and judge was a natural fit for Alito, who was interested in public issues, friends said. Clyde "Skip" Rankin '72 said Alito, who had wanted to be a lawyer for as long as he knew him, "always had a drive toward public service."
Those who've stayed in touch said Alito has enjoyed his career and is still the same down-to-earth classmate they remember.
Carlson, a debate teammate and Yale Law classmate, stopped by the U.S. Attorney's Office unannounced one day to see Alito just after he was nominated to the Third Circuit Court in 1990. As the two friends were talking, Carlson recalled, Alito told him, "You have to come see me when I become a judge because no one else will come to see me."
"There's a level of loneliness associated with being a federal district court judge or an appellate court judge," Carlson explained. "Colleagues and friends and other people who are lawyers might be a little standoffish toward you."
But this morning, Alito came across exactly as Carlson remembered him — "as a very nice guy, as an average guy who is doing his job as best he can and who is doing a fine job at it, who has the education and the intellectual ability to do the job that he has been given well."
"Sam is a truly dedicated public servant, because he could have been like the rest of us who have gone to private practice or industry and made a heck of lot more money," Carlson said. "Sam Alito is in the finest tradition of 'Princeton in the nation's service.' Sam has given his life, at considerable sacrifice to himself and his family, to public service."
—Includes reporting by Princetonian Senior Writer Chanakya Sethi.