Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 31, 2006, replacing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Alito was born in New Jersey on April 1, 1950. All four of his grandparents immigrated from Italy, where his father was born. Alito was the valedictorian at his high school and continued that academic success by graduating summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1972. He received his legal education at Yale Law School, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Alito participated in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at Princeton. After law school, he completed active duty for training for three months and then remained on inactive reserve status until he was discharged as a captain in 1980.

Alito started his legal career by working as a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1976-1977. Over the next decade, he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, an Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General, and a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice. Alito became the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey in 1987 and held that position until President George H.W. Bush nominated him to the Third Circuit in February 1990. The Senate unanimously confirmed him in April. Alito would serve on the Third Circuit for more than 15 years, articulating conservative views that foreshadowed some of his opinions on the Supreme Court.

The events leading to Alito’s arrival on the Court took several twists and turns. Republican President George W. Bush initially nominated John Roberts to fill the seat left vacant by the retiring Justice O’Connor. However, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died before Roberts was confirmed to that seat. Bush shifted the nomination of Roberts to Rehnquist’s seat and nominated Harriet Miers for O’Connor’s seat. Miers withdrew her candidacy a few weeks later in response to strong criticism, and Bush nominated Alito to fill the vacancy on November 10, 2005. Alito went through confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2006. The Committee voted 10-8 in his favor on January 24, and the Senate confirmed him by a 58-42 vote on January 31. He was sworn in on the same day.

Alito holds a deeply conservative view of many issues. For instance, he has helped bolster gun rights and religious liberty, while eroding voting rights and dissenting from decisions advancing LGBTQ+ rights. But Alito’s most significant legacy so far involves abortion. His majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reversed the long-standing precedent established by Roe v. Wade. Alito wrote that “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,...and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.” The impact of this decision was felt immediately and profoundly.

Selected Opinions by Justice Alito:

Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (2009)

Topic: Free Speech

The placement of a permanent monument in a public park is a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.

McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010)

Topic: Gun Rights

The Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense. (In other words, the right is protected from state as well as federal interference.)

Williams v. Illinois (2012)

Topic: Criminal Trials

Out-of-court statements that are related by an expert solely for the purpose of explaining the assumptions on which that opinion rests are not offered for their truth and thus fall outside the scope of the Confrontation Clause.

Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett (2013)

Topic: Health Care

Design defect claims based on generic drugs are preempted by federal law.

Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA (2013)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The Court has often found a lack of standing in cases in which the judiciary has been requested to review actions of the political branches in the fields of intelligence gathering and foreign affairs.

Vance v. Ball State University (2013)

Topic: Labor & Employment

An employee is a supervisor for the purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII only if they are empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014)

Topic: Health Care; Religion

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) permits a closely held for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners. Protecting the free exercise rights of closely held corporations protects the religious liberty of the people who own and control them.

Ohio v. Clark (2015)

Topic: Criminal Trials

The Confrontation Clause does not necessarily bar the introduction of all out-of-court statements that support the prosecution’s case. Instead, a court asks whether a statement was given with the primary purpose of creating an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony.

Glossip v. Gross (2015)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

To succeed in an Eighth Amendment method of execution claim, a prisoner must establish that the method creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain and that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.

Comptroller of Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne (2015)

Topic: Taxes

A state must offer its residents a full credit against the income taxes that they pay to other states.

Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (2016)

Topic: Role of Courts

Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.

Matal v. Tam (2017)

Topic: Trademarks

The disparagement provision of the Lanham Act, prohibiting the registration of trademarks that may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute any persons living or dead, violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

Janus v. AFSCME (2018)

Topic: Free Speech; Labor & Employment

The state’s extraction of agency fees from non-consenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment.

Jennings v. Rodriguez (2018)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Detained foreign nationals do not have a right to periodic bond hearings during the course of their detention.

Abbott v. Perez (2018)

Topic: Voting & Elections

In redistricting cases, the good faith of the state legislature must be presumed.

American Legion v. American Humanist Ass'n (2019)

Topic: Religion

When time’s passage imbues a religiously expressive monument, symbol, or practice with familiarity and historical significance, removing it may no longer appear neutral, especially to the local community. The passage of time thus gives rise to a strong presumption of constitutionality.

Babb v. Wilkie (2020)

Topic: Labor & Employment

The federal-sector provision of the ADEA demands that personnel actions be untainted by any consideration of age.

Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021)

Topic: Voting & Elections

To the extent that minority and non-minority groups differ with respect to employment, wealth, and education, even neutral regulations may result in some predictable disparities in rates of voting and non-compliance with voting rules. But the mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022)

Topic: Abortion & Reproductive Rights; Due Process

The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey are overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.

Vega v. Tekoh (2022)

Topic: Miranda Rights

A violation of the Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a Section 1983 claim against a police officer who improperly obtained a statement.