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“If they were dating … I don’t believe it would have been the kind of thing that would have been known in the office,” said Kenneth Laptook, whose office was next door to Judge Alito’s and who has remained friends with the couple through the years.

Mr. Laptook said he became friends easily with Judge Alito, whom he described as “calm” and “somewhat reserved” and the sort of man there is “nothing not to like about.”

“Sam has a very sort of dry sense of humor. He can be very funny, but for most people, it’s not like a ‘ha-ha-ha, fall down’ kind of funny, it’s an intellectual funny,” he said. “Martha, his wife, has a lot more of a bubbly kind of personality.”

Political leanings

Although friends say Judge Alito never publicly touted his top-notch academic resume, his certificates from Princeton and Yale began to pay off in political ways in 1981, when he was hired as an assistant in the office of the solicitor general in Washington. Judge Alito held the career lawyer position for four years under Reagan-appointed Solicitor General Rex E. Lee.

Former colleagues say that at first, Judge Alito remained mum about his political leanings. Mark Levy, who had gone to Yale Law with him and worked at the Justice Department at the time, described him as “not the sort who wore his views, including his political views, on his sleeve.”

That appeared to change in 1985, however, when Judge Alito sought a transfer to the politically appointed position of deputy assistant in Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III’s Office of Legal Counsel. Judge Alito boldly wrote in the job application form that he “personally” and “very strongly” believed that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”

As an attachment to the noncareer-appointment application form that he submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office, Judge Alito, then in his mid-30s, also bluntly stated that “I am and always have been a conservative” and that “I am a lifelong registered Republican.”

Rules of the game

Although the document drew the ire of some Democrats on Capitol Hill last month when it was leaked to the media, former Justice Department insiders say the assertions that Judge Alito made were standard for any young lawyer seeking to rise through the legal ranks in a conservative administration.

Unlike Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who at the time was in the politically appointed position of associate counsel to President Reagan, Judge Alito “was an unknown quantity to almost everybody,” said Charles J. Cooper, who was assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1985 through 1988 and became Judge Alito’s immediate superior at the time.

“He wasn’t a ‘secret handshake Reaganite’ in the Justice Department at all,” Mr. Cooper said. “You’ve got to demonstrate that you’re a supporter of the president… that does explain why he had to get political clearance to come over and be my deputy.”

It also might explain why lawyers who worked under Judge Alito in the office recall him as having an apolitical demeanor.

“I don’t remember Sam ever discussing political topics,” said Marc Miller, who worked in the office at the time.

Mr. Miller said Judge Alito was the most aggressive editor among the lawyers in the office, often giving meticulous “line-by-line edits” to legal memos shipped to the White House or to the attorney general.

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