Justice Antonin Scalia was followed by his newest colleague, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. As he took the stage, Justice Alito was greeted by a rousing ovation. After the applause died down, he quipped: “That’s what I thought the Senate Judiciary Committee would do.”
(As we stared at Justice Alito’s visage in the enormous screen hanging next behind the podium, we were reminded of his faint resemblance to Victor Garber.)
Justice Alito began by noting that Justice Scalia is one tough act to follow. He quoted the advice given to actors never to appear with a child or an animal (because you’ll always be upstaged). It’s dangerous to appear after Justice Scalia, according to Justice Alito, because anything you say “is destined to be anticlimactic.”
Justice Alito then turned his attention to the period almost exactly a year ago, when he was going through the confirmation process. He spoke about the great contrast between his relatively monastic existence as a circuit judge and the media circus that followed him around as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
He was especially puzzled, and occasionally amused, by the pack of photographers who followed him around as he visited different senators. They would backpedal as he walked towards them, furiously snapping pictures all the way, and paying no attention to what was behind them. At one point Justice Alito feared they’d go over the banister, falling down through the open atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building, like lemmings going over a cliff. He said that he’s still haunted by memories of that rather stressful period. When he walks past the Hart Building, on his way to the Supreme Court, he sometimes casts a wary eye at the building and quickens his step.
Reflecting on the early days of the Federalist Society, Justice Alito compared it to an underground movement or a secret society. You didn’t really know who was a member and who wasn’t. When he was an attorney at the Justice Department in the 1980′s, he would attend Society meetings at an old Chinese restaurant on Vermont Avenue. One time he ran into a colleague at a meeting. The colleague’s reaction upon seeing Alito there: “Funny running into you here, Sam. This is like meeting a friend in a bordello!”
(Justice Alito stated that, for the record, he has no basis for evaluating the accuracy of such a comparison.)
Justice Alito had some warm words for his colleague, Justice Scalia. But he maintained that Justice Scalia misled him in one important respect.
Based on Justice Scalia’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, by a vote of 98-0, Justice Alito expected that all Italian-American circuit judges born in Trenton, New Jersey,would receive a similar welcome in the Senate. “It didn’t quite turn out that way,” said Justice Alito. “But what’s 40 votes?”
(Justice Alito was confirmed by a vote of 58-42.)
In closing, Justice Alito expressed his pride in being a member of the Federalist Society:
“I am now, and for more than twenty years have been, a member of the Federalist Society.”
Ah, the luxury of life tenure! We recommend that future Supreme Court nominees with possible ties to the Federalist Society take the approach of Chief Justice Roberts. “Was I a member? Uh, kinda, but not really…”
(The Chief’s approach was a bit Clintonian, when the former president concluded that Monica Lewinsky had sexual relations with him, but he didn’t have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. “The Federalist Society? They may have listed me as a member, but I didn’t list them as an organization to which I belonged.”)
Justice Alito’s speech concluded the evening’s festivities. The formal program was followed by more post-dinner networking and exchanging of air kisses.
The highlight of the evening for us: Meeting Martha-Ann Alito! We complimented her on her elegant, eye-catching, gold bouclé jacket.* We chatted with her for a few minutes, and found her to be a delightful and engaging conversationalist.
Martha Alito is fabulous, fashionable, and fun. What more could one ask for in a SCOTUS spouse?
* Fashion footnote: Mrs. Alito’s jacket was one-half of the gold tweed suit that Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s fashion critic, didn’t much like. But then again, we don’t much like Robin Givhan.
New Justices Take the Podium, Putting Personalities on Display [Washington Post]
A Somber Annual Meeting for Conservative Lawyers [New York Times]