Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Samuel Alito ’75JD: the court’s man of the moment

Whatever else you might say about the rulings with which the Supreme Court ended its term this week, you might say—as Politico did in a profile on Tuesday—that “this was Justice Samuel Alito’s moment.” Alito, the most junior justice on the court’s conservative wing, wrote the majority opinion for two high-profile cases: Harris v. Quinn, in which the majority held that states could not compel home health-care workers to join a union; and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which it was decided that closely held companies could be exempted from paying for contraceptive coverage for their employees if doing do would violate their religious beliefs.

Alito has long been overshadowed on the court by his outspoken fellow jurist Antonin Scalia, but Politico suggests that the 64-year-old Alito may end up being far more influential:

“I’ve thought for a long time that Alito is the smartest conservative on the court. He’s strategic in a way Scalia and [Justice Clarence] Thomas aren’t,” said Ian Milheiser of the liberal Center for American Progress. “He asks the toughest questions on that side of the court and I think he’s also the most partisan justice. … Every other justice, I think, there’s a time they have crossed over and cast a vote that the president of their party hated, but not Alito.”

“Over time, and Alito could serve 15 more years, he’s likely to be more effective than Scalia. For one thing, his writing style is far more conducive to getting people to go along with him,” said Georgia State University law professor Eric Segall.

Bloomberg’s Noah Feldman points out that, unlike Scalia, Alito has been an unwavering advocate for religious freedom, deciding in a 1999 federal appeals court case that the Newark Police Department had to let Sunni Muslim men grow beards if it allowed any other exemptions from a no-beards policy. Similarly in the Hobby Lobby case, Alito drew on the fact that the Obama administration allows contraceptive-coverage workarounds for religious nonprofits.

“Liberals, beware,” National Journal warns, calling Alito “the most important conervative in America today. “Monday may just be a preview of what's to come from Alito in the years ahead.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Samuel Alito, Supreme Court

1 comment

  • Martin Snapp
    Martin Snapp, 5:15pm July 03 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    He's a partisan hack, and I'm embarrassed that he has Yale on his resume.

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