A Law Clerk's View of Judge Samuel Alito

Noah Adams speaks with Clark Lombardi, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito. Lombardi is now an assistant professor of law at the University of Washington Law School.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

Judge Samuel Alito, President Bush's pick to succeed Justice O'Connor on the Supreme Court, will leave no one guessing about his judicial philosophy. He's a jurist with a clear, conservative record, but who is he really and what is his temperament like? Clark Lombardi teaches at the University of Washington Law School. He clerked for Judge Alito on the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, and he joins me now.

How well is a law clerk able to get to know a judge on a court like that?

Professor CLARK LOMBARDI (University of Washington Law School): Well, I think it depends on the judge, and it's a very close relationship or can be. You have to work very closely with the judge, and when you have a judge who's, you know, pleasant and outgoing and a congenial person, then you can grow to know them quite well, indeed.

ADAMS: And how long were you his clerk?

Prof. LOMBARDI: For one year.

ADAMS: Now as you go about your day there on the campus of the University of Washington Law School, people who know of your connection with this man will be saying, `What's he like? Tell me stories about him.'

Prof. LOMBARDI: I suspect they will. And really, you know, all I can tell them in terms of what he's like is he's really a gentleman. I mean, he's a thoughtful person and he takes his job very seriously and he's just a wonderful mentor. I mean, he really wants people to understand what it is that judges do and how hard their job is and to be very careful and to be seen to be very careful, you know, about the approach he takes.

ADAMS: When you were clerking for him, did he invite your views and your contributions into the discussion about the cases that were in front of him?

Prof. LOMBARDI: Well, every judge handles their clerks very differently. I mean, appellate judges will get either three or four clerks--it's their choice--and he chose four clerks. Some use them largely as research assistants, I understand, are not particularly concerned with their views. Some judges are very interested in the views. We had robust discussions on the ...(unintelligible). It was a very open and respectful, you know, environment, and I think the judge wanted to hear all sides as he weighed particularly the more difficult cases.

ADAMS: You know, Judge Alito this morning referred to his father who had come to this country as an immigrant and he talks a lot about his devotion to his family. How did you see that at play in his work there?

Prof. LOMBARDI: It permeates his life in a couple of ways. I mean, one is that he was coaching Little League when we were there. So he had a really grueling schedule. He'd come in and he was always working late, but then he'd have to get out in time to make it to Little League practice. And, you know, there he'd be start walking out in his uniform and, you know, he'd come back to work. So you could tell that that was an enormously important part of his life. And we got to know his wife and his kids are wonderful.

He also was enormously sensitive to those of us who had families ourselves and, frankly, I think it shows up in some of his opinions. He actually cares about the people who were before him and he understands that they play many roles, both citizens and family members, you know, parents and spouses.

ADAMS: What do you mean the people who'd come before him?

Prof. LOMBARDI: Well, he understands that there's a human side to cases. One often worries about the prospect of there being a judge who's so ideologically driven that they only see things in ideals. You know, people are simple pawns in some larger ideological game, and I don't think that was ever--I mean, that was said, but that is not something that I think, if you read his opinions or if you know him personally, you could really take seriously. I mean, he is a person who's very well aware of who's before him and what's really at stake at a personal level for the people, and I think that should be very comforting.

ADAMS: Clark Lombardi is an assistant professor of law at the University of Washington Law School in Seattle. He clerked for Judge Alito on the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in 1999 and 2000, and joined us from the studios of NPR member station KUOW in Seattle.

Thank you, sir.

Prof. LOMBARDI: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

ADAMS: And you can hear and read more reaction to Alito's nomination and see some of the circuit court judge's career highlights. Go to the Web site, npr.org.

DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Noah Adams.

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