Where did we go wrong?
– Justice Samuel A. Alito, imagining the reaction of Yale Law School professors to the fact that he and Justice Clarence Thomas were, for a time, the two YLS graduates on the Supreme Court. Justice Alito delivered the keynote address last night at the annual dinner of the Federalist Society.
(Additional highlights from Justice Alito’s speech, after the jump.)
Justice Alito began his (hilarious) remarks by discussing his education in constitutional law — or lack thereof — at Yale Law School, under Professor Charles Reich. Here’s a good summary from The Blog of Legal Times:
The crowd heard a few zingers from Alito about how he learned constitutional law. Alito said Yale assigned him to the class of Charles Reich, a professor who had written several popular books about the decline of society. Reich thought “redemption could be found in the college hippie,” Alito said.
Reich started asking each student why they wanted to become a lawyer, and then engaged them in an extended debate. “This went on for weeks,” Alito said. The point he was trying to get across was that “there are no livable lives to be lived in the law.”
Reich also spent class time telling the students about a law firm at which one partner died during a tirade against an associate and another committed suicide by jumping down the elevator shaft.
One day, someone brought wine into class. “He began to chant, ‘Who put the acid in the wine, who put the acid in the wine,’ and that was the end of the class for the day,” Alito said.
For the record, it does not appear that Sam Alito indulged in either the wine or any other substances contained therein. I agree with Josh Blackman: “I’m positive the only thing Alito was interested in dropping was the course.”
Because his constitutional law professor went AWOL in the middle of the semester — Professor Reich posted a note on the classroom door stating, “I have found it necessary to go to San Francisco, the rest of the classes are cancelled” — Justice Alito had to self-instruct in the subject. This was not necessarily a bad thing; “self-instruction is better than mal-instruction,” he quipped.
Justice Alito suggested that the best way to learn about the Constitution is, well, to start by reading the thing itself. If you do, a few things might jump out at you:
It is hard not to notice that Congress’s powers are limited. And you will see there is an amendment that comes right after the First Amendment, and there’s another that comes after the Ninth Amendment. Those are just a couple of examples.
He then went into a very funny riff about a LegalZoom for constitutions. From Josh Blackman:
The framers will be led through questions. On a scale of 1-10, how much protection should there be for free speech, religion, due process . . . Of course, the document would be printed on elegant parchment.
The highlight for me, as I noted on Twitter, was hearing a Supreme Court justice quote Nicole Richie. In the course of describing the facts of FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Justice Alito uttered the following words (bleeping by Alito): “Have you ever tried to get cow bleep out of a Prada purse? It’s not so bleeping simple.”
It was no ordinary dinner speech, that much is for sure! For additional coverage, check out Josh Blackman’s Blog, where he offers detailed summaries of Justice Alito’s remarks on individual cases from last Term, and The BLT, which focuses on his Citizens United remarks.
Recap of Federalist Society 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner with Remarks by Justice Alito #FedSoc2012 [Josh Blackman]
Alito Defends ‘Citizens’ in Speech to Federalist Society [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]