Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. typically sided with the government during his 15 years as an appellate judge, whether the issue was civil rights or workers’ rights, according to legal academics and lawyers who watch the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
“Across the board, he has a pro-government inclination,” said Craig Green, a professor at Temple Law School. “It’s not quite uncommon for people who made their careers in government to be more favorable.”
Before becoming a jurist, Judge Alito was a lawyer in the Solicitor General’s Office and then the Attorney General’s Office in the Reagan administration, chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey and a law clerk.
“No way am I saying he’s a government hack,” said Mr. Green, who also worked in the Justice Department and with the Solicitor General’s Office, and was quick to add, “but it’s the strongest theme of his work.”
If Judge Alito faced a defendant, it was either from the bench or the prosecution table. He spent one summer working for the New Jersey Public Defender during law school, and his time in private practice was limited to six months with a Trenton, N.J.-based firm shortly after he graduated from Yale Law School in 1975.
His extensive government experience has shaped his opinions since President George Bush appointed him to the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit in 1990. It also has invited comparisons to that of another Supreme Court justice — the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
Consider some of Judge Alito’s dissents on cases were workers or inmates have turned to the courts:
In Sheridan v. DuPont, Judge Alito was the lone vote in a 12-1 decision on a case of sex discrimination. The plaintiff in the 1996 case had claimed discrimination after a demotion and sexual harassment. Judge Alito wrote that a plaintiff in such a case should not be able to avoid having a judge summarily dismiss the case just by casting doubt on an employer’s version of the story. The full 3rd Circuit ruled that the case should be reconsidered for a new trial.
In Bray v. Marriott Hotels, Judge Alito sought to throw out the hiring-discrimination case of a black hotel housekeeper who was denied a promotion and saw the job go to a white woman. A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit ruled in 1997 that she could take her case before a jury, overturning a lower court decision that she had not made a strong enough case for that.
In Rompilla v. Horn, Judge Alito upheld a 17-year-old death penalty of Ronald Rompilla, who said his public defenders failed to review records showing mitigating evidence of mental retardation and traumatic upbringing, even after prosecutors gave warning they planned to use the documents against him. The Supreme Court decided 5-4 to order a new penalty trial, warning state courts that shoddy defense work won’t be tolerated.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who President Bush nominated Judge Alito to replace, cast the deciding vote.
On several cases of habeas corpus — constitutional challenges brought by inmates who argue that their convictions or sentences violated their basic rights — Judge Alito tended to side with either the federal or state government.