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The Most Consistent Reactionary


Linda Greenhouse states what should be obvious about Sam Alito:

Conservatives are confident that unlike Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who committed the unpardonable sin of saving the Affordable Care Act, Sam Alito will never go soft in the crunch. Unlike Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, he is utterly reliable. (Will Justice Alito vote for a right to same-sex marriage, as Justice Kennedy is widely expected to do? Not on your life.) Unlike Justice Antonin Scalia, whose rhetorical excesses yield diminishing returns these days (his perfervid dissent in the 2013 Defense of Marriage Act case has been widely cited by lower court judges as demonstrating that the constitutional basis for a right to same-sex marriage is now beyond debate), Sam Alito is never bombastic. And he avoids the self-indulgent eccentricity that has rendered Justice Clarence Thomas a nonplayer.

In the November issue of the religious journal First Things, Prof. Michael Stokes Paulsen, describing Justice Alito as the “man of the hour,” accurately labeled him “the most consistent, solid, successful conservative on the court,” adding: “There are louder talkers, flashier stylists, wittier wits, more-poisonous pens, but no one with a more level and solid swing than Justice Samuel Alito.”


This month marks the start of Justice Alito’s 10 year on the Supreme Court. He took his seat on Jan. 31, 2006, chosen by President George W. Bush to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and confirmed by a vote of 58 to 42 after a feeble Democratic filibuster effort collapsed. The Alito-for-O’Connor substitution was the most consequential change on the court since the first President Bush picked Clarence Thomas to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1991. None of the six subsequent departures (in addition to Justice O’Connor, they were Justices Byron R. White and Harry A. Blackmun, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Justices Souter and John Paul Stevens) produced anything like the ideological lurch caused by the replacement of a moderately conservative compromise seeker with a lifelong movement conservative. In 1985, a 35-year-old Samuel Alito applied for a job in the Reagan Justice Department with an essay asserting that as a teenager in the 1960s, “the greatest influences on my views were the writings of William F. Buckley Jr., the National Review, and Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign.”

And there is nothing at all surprising about the fact that Alito has been a human manifestation of the Republican Party platform on the Supreme Court. It was obvious at the time of his nomination. Much of the mainstream coverage of the Alito nomination was scandalously incompetent precisely because it focused on his tone and whether or not he liked baseball rather than his votes. But the conservatives in the DOJ — who didn’t see a single vote objectionable from their perspective in his entire circuit court tenure — knew exactly what they were doing.

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