Justice Alito Speaks on Judge’s Role

  • Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Samuel Alito Jr.  

Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. spoke to a packed Stahr Auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 5, answering students’ questions about his judicial philosophy, the workings of the high court and the Senate-approval process.

The former Third Circuit Court of Appeals judge was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alito, was invited to speak at the College by Grier Stephenson, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Government, and spent much of the noonday conversation reflecting on the role of a judge.

“There is a very distinctive judicial role in the justice system. It can’t be captured by any neat theory. The role is defined in large measure by history and tradition,” Alito said.

“We are not lawmakers,” Alito said. “It is our job to interpret the Constitution.”

The judge has the law as a guide, he said, and he or she must be aware of that power and practice restraint.

“I have continued to learn from various colleagues that you have to have an open mind to wisdom whenever it presents itself,” Alito said.

When asked about case selection, Alito pointed out that more than 10,000 cases are brought to the court each year, yet only about 80 cases are heard each term.

He said the justices decide to hear cases if there is a conflict between courts, or “when cases are obviously very important, like the Guantanamo detainees.”

Asked about the approval process, Alito made it clear that he didn’t enjoy his Senate confirmation hearings. He said that the system has become too political, as senators attempt to quiz judges on how they would vote if certain issues came before the court.

“The hearings are quite extensive, and it is quite a task to get ready for,” Alito said. “It has become extremely unpleasant, extremely nasty.”

He pointed out that the president has the responsibility to nominate a justice, and the Senate has the power to advise and consent on the nomination.

Yet, in recent years, “the Senate has claimed more and more authority. They are probing to find out how a nominee will decide on cases. No nominee has felt it was proper to cover those questions.”

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