WASHINGTON – Samuel A. Alito has been a strong conservative jurist on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a court with a reputation for being among the nation's most liberal.
Dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite," a play not only on his name but his opinions, Alito, 55, brings a hefty legal resume that belies his age. He has served on the federal appeals court for 15 years since President George H.W. Bush nominated him in 1990.
Before that Alito was U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey from 1987 to 1990, where his first assistant was a lawyer by the name of Michael Chertoff (search), now the Homeland Security secretary.
Alito was the deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration from 1985 to 1987 and assistant to the solicitor general from 1981 to 1985.
His New Jersey ties run deep. Alito, the son of an Italian immigrant, was born in Trenton and attended Princeton University. He headed to Connecticut to receive his law degree, graduating from Yale University in 1975. He served in the Army Reserves from 1972 until 1980, when he was discharged as a captain.
If confirmed, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court.
On the bench, Alito is known to be probing, but more polite than the often-caustic Justice Antonin Scalia (search), to whom he is sometimes compared. In high school, he competed in debate with his younger sister Rosemary. His style is considered quiet and thoughtful.
Among his noteworthy opinions was his lone dissent in the 1991 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (search), in which the 3rd Circuit struck down a Pennsylvania law that included a provision requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.
In 2000, though, Alito joined the majority that found a New Jersey law banning late-term abortions unconstitutional. In his concurring opinion, Alito said the Supreme Court required such a ban to include an exception if the mother's health was endangered.
On the spousal notification law, Alito wrote, "The Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems — such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition — that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion," Alito wrote.
The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, struck down the spousal notification, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist (search) quoted from Alito's opinion in his dissent.
Former appellate judge Timothy Lewis (search), who served with Alito, has ideological differences with him but believes he would be a good Supreme Court justice.
"There is nobody that I believe would give my case a more fair and balanced treatment," Lewis said. "He has no agenda. He's open-minded, he's fair and he's balanced."
In a 1999 case, Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Newark (search), the 3rd Circuit ruled 3-0 that Muslim police officers in the city can keep their beards. The police had made exemption in its facial hair policy for medical reasons (a skin condition known as pseudo folliculitis barbae) but not for religious reasons.
Alito wrote the opinion, saying, "We cannot accept the department's position that its differential treatment of medical exemptions and religious exemptions is premised on a good-faith belief that the former may be required by law while the latter are not."
In July 2004, the 3rd Circuit Court ruled that a Pennsylvania law prohibiting student newspapers from running ads for alcohol was unconstitutional. At issue was Act 199, an amendment to the Pennsylvania Liquor Code passed in 1996 that denied student newspapers advertising revenue from alcoholic beverages.
Alito said the law violated the First Amendment rights of the student newspaper, The Pitt News, from the University of Pittsburgh.
"If government were free to suppress disfavored speech by preventing potential speakers from being paid, there would not be much left of the First Amendment," Alito wrote.
In 1999, Alito was part of a majority opinion in ACLU v. Schundler (search). At issue was a holiday display in Jersey City. The court held that the display didn't violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment because in addition to a creche and a menorah, it also had a Frosty the Snowman and a banner hailing diversity.
In the case of Homar v. Gilbert (search) in 1996, Alito wrote the dissenting opinion that a state university didn't violate the due process rights of a campus police officer when they suspended him without pay after they learned he had been arrested on drug charges.
One of the most notable opinions was Alito's dissent in the 1996 case of Sheridan v. Dupont (search), a sex discrimination case. Alito wrote that a plaintiff in such a case should not be able to withstand summary judgment just by casting doubt on an employer's version of the story.
In Fatin v. INS (search) (1993), Alito joined the majority in ruling that an Iranian woman seeking asylum could establish eligibility based on citing that she would be persecuted for gender and belief in feminism.
In a 1996 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of a federal law banning the possession of machine guns, Alito argued for greater state rights in reasoning that Congress had no authority to regulate private gun possession.
In a May 2005 profile in The Newark Star-Ledger, Alito said, "Most of the labels people use to talk about judges, and the way judges decide [cases] aren't too descriptive. ... Judges should be judges. They shouldn't be legislators, they shouldn't be administrators."