He's a Springsteen fan, history buff and marksman. He can whip up a salmon pate, but don't ask him to bake a cake. His marriage proposal began as an offer to take dancing lessons.

These insights into Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito came from his wife, Martha, who confided in an interview that the man who has pondered weighty issues as a federal appeals judge for more than a decade has some interesting quirks.

His music tastes tend toward Beethoven and Bruce Springsteen but "I force him to listen to Scarlatti and Bach," Mrs. Alito said in a Washington Post interview published Monday. He once attended a ska festival -- that's rock music, with a touch of reggae and horns.

Lately, her husband has been reading "Civil War stuff," Mrs. Alito says. Once, he began teaching himself Greek so he could read the philosophers in their original language. He also took up juggling.

"He's a great marksman -- he can do double clays," she says, meaning he can hit two clay pigeon targets thrown simultaneously into the air before either hits the ground.

On their first date, they discussed a movie about an Asian mystic's travels through Afghanistan and his search for the meaning of life. Alito's marriage proposal began with a different sort of proposal -- "Let's go take dancing lessons."

Her husband is a gourmet cook, skilled in such delicacies as salmon pate, but don't expect dessert. "He's not a baker," Mrs. Alito said.

And while he usually prepares the family's holiday dinner, last month he was too tied up with nomination matters, she said.


High noon, stage left: Alito entered the cavernous hearing room escorted by the most senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Alito shook hands, smiled for the cameras and took his seat behind the witness table. Official duties finished for the moment, he turned to his cheering section.

Grinning back was a who's-who of Alito's personal fan club. The nominee nodded to each one: wife Martha, seated right behind him in a fuschia suit. Next to her in bright blue: his sister, Rosemary, a trial attorney.

Alito's eye then lingered on his high-school-aged daughter, Laura. She waved a hand; he raised his eyebrows as if to say, "Here we go."

He grinned at college-student son Philip, then on to his in-laws: Gene and Barbara Bomgardner.

Other seats behind him were filled by friends and cousins, Alito said.

Introducing his family to the committee, Alito called Laura a "really great swimmer."

Then he gave some attention to Philip.

Alito recalled that in 1990, his then-3-year-old son ran up to sit with him at the head table during his nomination hearing for his current U.S. Appeals Court seat. Phillip, now a college student at the University of Virginia, sat behind Alito Monday with his mother, Martha, and sibling Laura, as the judge prepared to give his opening statement for a Supreme Court seat.

"When I had my confirmation hearing for the Court of Appeals, Philip was 3 years old. And when I was called up to the chair he took it upon himself to run up and sit next to me in case any hard questions came up," Alito said. "I don't know whether he's going to try the same thing tomorrow, but probably I could use the help."