Alito: Quiet-Mannered Conservative

Judge Samuel Alito listens as President Bush announces him as his Supreme Court nominee in the Cross Hall of the White House Monday, Oct. 31, 2005 in Washington. AP

He's worked for Michael Chertoff and was named to his current position by George H.W. Bush. Now, Samuel A. Alito, a strong conservative jurist on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been tapped by the president.

Alito, who was born in Trenton, N.J., the son of an Italian immigrant, is sometimes called "Scalito" — a nickname of dual purpose: it meshes his name with that of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and is also a translation of "little Scalia." Sometimes, Alito is even called "Scalia-lite."

Alito, 55, is hailed as bringing a hefty legal resume that belies his age, but carrying a soft, respectful demeanor and almost monastic work ethic.

He has served on the reputedly liberal federal appeals court for 15 years. Before that Alito was U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey from 1987 to 1990, where his first assistant was a lawyer by the name of Michael Chertoff, now the Homeland Security secretary.

Alito was the deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration from 1985 to 1987 and assistant to the solicitor general from 1981 to 1985.

His New Jersey ties run deep. Alito, whose father was an immigrant from Italy, attended Princeton University. He headed to Connecticut to receive his law degree, graduating from Yale University in 1975. He served in the Army Reserves from 1972 until 1980, when he was discharged as a captain.

He is married to Martha-Ann Bomgardner, an attorney, and has two children, a college-age son, Philip, and a younger daughter, Laura. His late father, Samuel Alito Sr., was the director of New Jersey's Office of Legislative Services from 1952 to 1984. Alito's sister, Rosemary, is a top employment lawyer in New Jersey.

Alito's mother, who will turn 91 in December, spent the morning fielding congratulatory telephone calls from her home in Hamilton, N.J., a Trenton suburb. "I'm so excited I can't even express myself," she said.

If confirmed, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court.

On the bench, Alito is known to be probing, but more polite than the often-caustic Justice Antonin Scalia, to whom he is sometimes compared. In high school, he competed in debate with his younger sister Rosemary. His style is considered quiet and thoughtful.

But Alito is similar to Scalia in one sense: Lawyers say Alito's vote is easy to predict in highly charged or partisan cases.

Among his noteworthy opinions was his lone dissent in the 1991 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the 3rd Circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.

In 2000, though, Alito joined the majority that found a New Jersey law banning late-term abortions unconstitutional. In his concurring opinion, Alito said the Supreme Court required such a ban to include an exception if the mother's health was endangered.

On the spousal notification law, Alito wrote, "The Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems — such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition — that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion," Alito wrote.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, struck down the spousal notification, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist quoted from Alito's opinion in his dissent.

  • Christine Lagorio

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