Sensible shoes are for liberal chicks. Say hello to fabulous Federalist footwear!
As you may have noticed, from our two posts late on Monday night and one from Tuesday morning, we’re engaging in some after-the-fact blogging of last week’s Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention.
As in past years, the social highlight of the conference was the Thursday night banquet (black tie optional; and many availed themselves of the option, ’cause that’s how conservatives roll). The speaker at the dinner was none other than Justice Samuel A. Alito, who delivered an insightful and hilarious speech that was a delight to listen to. Just as one might say of, say, a newscast by Jon Stewart, much of the entertainment value was in the delivery — Justice Alito is so dry and deadpan, and yet his remarks make you bust out laughing.
Interestingly enough, we haven’t come across many news accounts of Justice Alito’s speech. There was also no video recording allowed at the address. So we feel we can add some value with this write-up, despite its belated nature.
There may have been some confusion over the ground rules governing reporting about the speech. From the BLT:
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. spoke to the Federalist Society [last Thursday] night, but photos of him doing so are hard to come by. That’s because photographers other than the Federalist Society’s own were barred from the event. Keith Appell, a spokesman for the Federalist Society, said cameras were prohibited by Alito’s security detail….
Kathy Arberg, the court spokeswoman, said “The justice’s policy was that the event was open to still cameras and pencil press,” and that the Federalist Society was informed of that policy before the event.
Well, photos from the event aren’t hard to come by on Above the Law. Nobody told us that we couldn’t take photographs — so we did. And, as members of the “pencil press,” we jotted down notes in our reporter’s notebook. (We left the laptop at the hotel that night.)
Check out a slideshow of our pictures, along with a discussion of Justice Alito’s highly engaging and entertaining address, after the jump.
We were able to chat with Justice Alito and the lovely Martha-Ann Alito at the reception before the dinner. Being on the Supreme Court appears to agree with the Justice; he seems to look younger and thinner with each new public appearance. Back in 2005, when he was nominated to the Supreme Court shortly after golden boy John G. Roberts, Justice Alito was viewed by some as a less cute version of JGR. But SAA now seems to be growing more handsome, while JGR is aging a bit — guard against the expansion of that bald spot, Mr. Chief Justice! (Of course, Chief Justice Roberts is still very good-looking, as we can attest from a recent visit to the Court).
Rumor has it that the transformation of Justice Alito is largely the result of a diet and exercise regimen imposed on His Honor by Martha-Ann. But if you visit One First Street, we’d suggest discreetly sipping the water from one of the Court’s fountains. Might they be the Fountains of Youth?
(You can see photos of Justice Alito, looking dapper in his tuxedo, in the slideshow below (slides #3 and #4). These days he’s looking like a young Victor Garber; if present trends continue, next year he will look like a young Marlon Brando.)
Another highlight of the reception was meeting Hannah Giles (at right), the feisty tigress who posed as a prostitute to take down some not-so-good folks over at ACORN. Hannah Giles appeared at the dinner accompanied by her high-powered lawyers from WilmerHale, who are defending the young hottie in a lawsuit brought by ACORN officials for alleged violation of a Maryland law requiring consent for recording prior conversations. (Giles was almost as youthful and beautiful as Judge Jennifer Elrod, whom we also had the privilege of meeting that evening.)
Celebrity sightings at the reception were plentiful. At one point, we were within twenty feet of three conservative lions: former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, and likely future Texas Attorney General Ted Cruz (from the next generation of leaders). There were also more federal circuit judges in the room than cocktail waiters.
We could have stayed at the reception for hours, which was like being at the legal world’s version of the Vanity Fair Oscars party. But they started ringing the bell to summon everyone in for dinner, and the crowd dutifully followed, shuffling into the largest ballroom at the Omni Shoreham hotel (and networking all the way).
Justice Alito was introduced by Paul Singer, the founder of the Elliott Associates hedge fund (check out slide #1 to see what a billionaire looks like). Singer, a personal friend of Justice Alito, gave the typically generous introduction. When Justice Alito took the podium, he quipped, “Paul, thank you for the introduction. It was extravagant, but I enjoyed it.” (This produced laughter from the crowd, perhaps because Justice Alito is usually so modest and self-effacing; would a similar remark from Justice Scalia have been received the same way?)
Like a good dinner speaker, Justice Alito warmed up the crowd with a story. He talked about going on a fishing trip deep into the wilderness with Paul Singer (maybe to the wilds of Alaska, but the details escape us). One morning they woke up to find their camp surrounded by bears. Justice Alito said he asked himself: “Do you really want to go down in history as the first Supreme Court justice to be devoured by a bear?”
(Or shot in the face by a sitting vice-president? That’s why it’s better to go fishing with a billionaire than hunting with Dick Cheney. Does Justice Alito have better judgment than Justice Scalia?)
The speech then turned serious — to a point. Justice Alito introduced his high-minded topic, the role of the federal courts in constitutional interpretation, but couldn’t resist snarky references to the titles of two recent books about the Constitution by left-of-center law professors: Laurence Tribe’s The Invisible Constitution and Cass Sunstein’s A Constitution of Many Minds.
Justice Alito slyly suggested that with book titles like these, one shouldn’t be surprised if liberals place relatively less emphasis on the words and original meaning of the Constitution. Because his busy schedule as a Supreme Court justice leaves him without the time to curl up with these tomes, “I will have to stick to intrepreting the principles of the Constitution that are visible to the naked eye.”
He then turned to some recent remarks made by partisans in the confirmation hearings for his newest colleague, Justice Sonia Sotomayor (who was, incidentally, just four years behind him at Yale Law School and five years behind Justice Thomas). From the BLT:
Referring to her opening statement, Alito said, “There was not a word in that statement that was controversial, but that’s not how it was received by her progressive audience.” He cited as an example a post on the Federalist Society’s Web site by Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman, in which Seidman wrote, “I was completely disgusted by Judge Sotomayor’s testimony today. If she was not perjuring herself, she is intellectually unqualified to be on the Supreme Court. If she was perjuring herself, she is morally unqualified.”
“And those were the words of one of her supporters,” Alito said. “I had a lot of opponents, but I never had any supporters like that.”
This excellent one-liner also generated robust laughter from the audience. For an appointed rather than an elected official, Justice Alito knows how to work a crowd.
Justice Alito then made surprisingly candid remarks about Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008), in which the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, held that punishing the crime of child rape with the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. He pointed out that in 2006, Congress revised revised the Uniform Code of Military Justice to add child rape to the list of offenses punishable in the military by death (a fact that didn’t come to light until after the opinions were issued; it was pointed out by blogger Dwight Sullivan, whose blogging then got picked up by Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times).
In light of this recent federal enactment, multiple state laws to the same effect, and even public opinion polls suggesting support for the death penalty in such cases, was the Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana proper? In Justice Alito’s opinion, it was not. Rather, this was an unfortunate case of
Justice Kennedy the Court substituting its own judgment for that of the people.
Justice Alito then turned to the famous case of Ricci v. DeStefano (2009). From the write-up of Jeff Jeffrey — yes, that’s his real name, we got to meet him at the conference — for the BLT:
Alito said that, although he disagreed with Sotomayor’s Second Circuit vote and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court dissent, they and other colleagues with whom he has disagreed during his time as a judge were not “fools or acting in bad faith” [a reference back to a quotation he mentioned earlier]. He applauded Ginsburg for not basing her decision on “sympathy” for the plaintiffs.
“Sympathy is not what Ricci, Vargas, or any of the other firefighters have a right to demand,” Alito said. “What they have a right to demand is [evenhanded application] of the law.”
On that note, Justice Alito concluded his excellent remarks, which received a long and enthusiastic standing ovation. With the formal proceedings finished, much of the crowd adjourned to a reception room across the hall for an after-party, for continued vast right-wing conspiring. A good time was had by all.
Alito Praises Fidelity to the Law, But Cameras? Maybe Not [The BLT: The Blog of the Legal Times]
Both Sides Lawyer Up in Acorn Secret-Video Case [Washington Wire / WSJ]