Supporters, Friends Talk Up Judge Alito
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Lawmakers are just beginning to explore the record of the latest Supreme Court nominee. And plenty of interest groups, both for and against him, will be happy to help. There's a lot of material to work with. Judge Samuel Alito has left a long trail of legal opinions from 15 years on a federal appeals court. He also has a long line of friends and colleagues who are lining up to praise him as a good judge who happens to be very conservative. NPR's Larry Abramson called some of them.
LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:
Talk to friends and colleagues of Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. and they'll tell you he hasn't changed much since Yale Law School, class of 1975. That's where criminal attorney Peter Goldberger first encountered Alito.
Mr. PETER GOLDBERGER (Criminal Attorney): ...and this guy was sitting near the front of the class who had never opened his mouth before, raised his hand with some question or comment, and I realized this is someone who's exceptionally smart in this room full of smart people.
ABRAMSON: Smart and clearly conservative. Classmates say Alito's politics stood out on a college campus wrestling with the Vietnam War and the tumult of the early 1970s. But publisher and journalist Steven Brill says that Alito's politics were muted by his humility.
Mr. STEVEN BRILL (Publisher, Journalist): Yeah, it wasn't like he was, you know, picking fights with everyone in class or anything. I don't remember him screaming at a liberal teacher or anything like that.
ABRAMSON: Alito's brains and his even-keeled personality won him a stint as a clerk on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals where he now serves as a judge. He soon got a post at the solicitor general's office in the Reagan administration. Attorney Charles Cooper met him there and quickly decided to bring Alito over to the Office of Legal Counsel.
Mr. CHARLES COOPER (Attorney): You could simply count on Sam not to be influenced by anything other than honest assessment of the rule of law.
ABRAMSON: The Reagan administration's second term threw the legal counsel's office a series of trying issues from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to the Iran/Contra affair. Alito's performance earned him a chance to lead the US attorney's office in Newark where he'd already worked as an assistant prosecutor. Alito hired Donna Gallucio in 1988 and she describes his leadership there in the same glowing terms.
Ms. DONNA GALLUCIO: It was very professional. He took an interest in our cases. There was an emphasis on getting the resources to do what we needed to do to carry out the mission.
ABRAMSON: As a US attorney, Alito handled everything from Mafia cases to the prosecution of an electronics dealer, Crazy Eddie, and once again, the cavalcade of praise that appears to have followed Alito all his professional life got him yet another promotion. In 1990, he was named to a seat on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed by unanimous consent in the Democratically controlled Senate.
As much as he is praised as a gentlemen and a scholar, Alito is also known as an incisive questioner. Peter Goldberger ran into his old law school classmate when he appealed a criminal case to the 3rd Circuit. Goldberger can't remember the question Alito asked, but he remembers what he felt when he heard it.
Mr. GOLDBERGER: Despair. He'll asked the question that I don't have a good answer to, if there is such a question in my case. He'll find it.
ABRAMSON: But Goldberger cautions that Alito is not `Scalito Light' or `Scalito,' as he has been dubbed by some, at least not in style. Alito's questions have been sharp, but polite, and fairly infrequent on the appeals court. Goldberger himself has a complicated reaction to Alito's rise to the High Court. He inhabits the opposite end of the political spectrum from Alito. Nevertheless, Peter Goldberger says he's basically delighted at this appointment, even though he knows he'll disagree with Judge Alito's rulings.
Mr. GOLDBERGER: He doesn't have the same basic focus and orientation that I have, which is to the individual person and the individual person's problems when confronted with government power. He has worked for the government his entire career. I don't think he's every represented a private individual as a lawyer.
ABRAMSON: Like Goldberger, lawmakers will have to decide whether Alito's golden reputation as a person can assuage their concerns about his reputation as a conservative. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.