August 28, 2006

"It was sort of surreal... I've had to pinch myself to say, 'Yeah, you're really here. You're on the Supreme Court. This is really happening.'"

Says Samuel Alito in this long interview. (Via Howard Bashman.)

About the confirmation process:
Self-doubt, he said, was a constant companion. Asked if he ever questioned himself and his pursuit of the high court seat during that period, he replied: "Like every day."
He compares his work on the Supreme Court to his earlier work as a circuit judge:
The intellectual work before the high court is "innovative," he said. There are nine jurists, which makes it harder to build consensus than with the three-judge panels he is accustomed to. On the circuit court, arguments are often made about multiple legal issues and how the law is applied to the circumstances of the case. The high court spends more of its energy on big ideas. All of the cases involve tough legal questions.

"The difference is that in court of appeals the typical case would involve usually a number of issues, maybe three, four, five or 10 issues," he said. "When a case comes to us on the Supreme Court and we take it, we take it to resolve usually one legal issue -- sometimes there are two. But most of them involve a single legal issue so everything is focused on that."
His living arrangements:
From the time of his nomination until the court's summer recess, Alito stayed mostly in Washington, D.C. His family stayed mostly in New Jersey. On weekends he would often drive north to their West Caldwell home, which they plan to keep for now.

With his family in New Jersey, Alito devoted himself to the court.

"I ended up working until 11 o'clock, midnight most nights. I had a little apartment just a couple blocks from the court so I would go home and come back. I really had nothing else to do," he said.
Don't you like to think of the Justices adopting a monk-style life? Or does that worry you?
Writing opinions, he said, demanded a new level of concentration.

"You really are the final step, and what you write will be interpreted and interpreted. And so you have to make a special effort to be very precise," Alito said.
Mmmm... yes. Reminds me of some of those things we were talking about here last week. You really do have to do that hard work of fitting all the texts and cases together. You've got to prove it to us, in writing, that you've gone through the process that makes the power you've wielded not abusive.
While he finds the work enjoyable, and in some ways almost like being a professor....
Which is the ultimate in pleasure... at least for legal nerds.
The first weeks were hard, he says -- especially since he kept getting lost.

"The Supreme Court building is one of the most confusing buildings I have ever been in. ... I didn't know where anything was, how to get in or how to get out," he said.

And just asking a question has proved to be its own adventure. To question lawyers during arguments, the justices must flick a switch to activate their microphone.

"You have to be very quick on the draw," said Alito. "I like to let a lawyer at least finish a sentence. So I'm waiting for a period to ask a question, but if you do that, there's more of a chance that everybody else is going to come in."
About that ideological divide:
The justice said in his day-to-day work at the court, he gives little thought to the ideological divide among the justices. It is only to be expected, he said, that the court will have disagreements, since the cases it decides are the most controversial in the land.
"I just work on each case, and that's basically it. Obviously, there are certain cases where you see a division ... but very often that is not the case," he said.

"You get used to the fact that you're not always going to agree on things and sometimes it's frustrating -- particularly if it is something where you feel you're right and you can't understand why anyone would disagree with you," he said. "I don't think it's personal. We just don't always see things the same way."

With all of the public focus on the ideology of the court, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that attention focuses on only a few of the cases the justices decide, he said.

"We decide maybe 80, 90 cases a term, and the public focuses generally at the end of the term on maybe 10 cases. The others generally don't have that sort of division," Alito said.
Scalia made fun of his robe!
He's been wearing the same old robe since he joined the circuit court. On one of his first days, Justice Antonin Scalia joked with him about a purple swatch on the back. Defending her new colleague, Ginsburg piped up that Alito could wear whatever he wanted.
I love the high school vibe to that. I'm picturing Ginsburg played by Gilda Radner, Steve Martin as Scalia, and Bill Murray as Alito, in one of those high school nerd sketches from the old days of "Saturday Night Live."

There are also a couple of interesting quotes from his wife, Martha-Ann Alito. How she's felt since the swearing-in: "It was all very, not dream-like, it just seemed the right thing was happening to me." And, about the attacks on her husband during the confirmation hearings: "The way the world is these days, Sam is by far not even close to being an imminent threat to civil liberties." An interesting locution, don't you think? It's actually not very consoling!


Palladian said...

Gosh, this makes me love the little rumpled Constitutionalist. It sounds like the narrative of a befuddled college freshman.

peter hoh said...

FWIW, I like the idea of justices adopting a monk-like lifestyle.

MrCurious said...

As a non-lawyer interested in the law, it is very refreshing to see a side of the Supreme Court justices that reveals their humility, their desire to produce the best work possible, and a sense of awe at the enormity of their position. If only these aspects could make their way into the personalities in Congress......

Seven Machos said...

Peter -- I disagree. For all the sheer inadequacy of the selection of that one woman (whose name escapes me, and who I still halfway believe was a non-starter designed to make Alito seem like an acceptable pick to Democrats), the one good argument put forth on her behalf was that she had some experience in business and the real world.

Decisions from the Supreme Court are often difficult to implement in the real world because -- I would suggest -- the deciders just don't understand how average Joes live their lives.

Of course, the same could be said of most members of Congress.

Palladian said...

But they're not supposed to make decisions based on how the "average Joe" lives their lives, are they? I thought they were supposed to interpret the law and the Constitution.

Seven Machos said...

Very good point. Would that they would.

Jacob said...

I love that he has a 2pac poster.

Simon said...

Jacob said...
"I love that [Alito] has a 2pac poster."

Boy, is Sam going to be jealous when Nino jams on Ludacris' next record!