WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has an extensive paper trail, thanks to a lengthy legal career as a judge, a U.S. attorney and government lawyer.
Since Alito was nominated on Oct. 31, his opinions on rulings and cases have been analyzed by lawmakers, journalists and special-interest groups for clues to how he might rule on the Supreme Court. Although he is a conservative jurist in the main, his opinions have not always been predictably to the right. Several documents offer insight into Alito's views on the pressing topics of the day:
ABORTION: Working in the Reagan Justice Department during the 1980s, Alito wrote two documents that clearly demonstrate opposition to abortion. As a Philadelphia-based appeals court judge, Alito also staked out positions supporting restrictions on abortion. His 90-year-old mother said the day his nomination was announced, "Of course, he's against abortion." When meeting with congressional leaders after his nomination, however, Alito promised that his personal views on abortion would be put aside if he were confirmed as justice.
CRIMINAL PROCEDURE — FOURTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS: As a lawyer in the solicitor general's office during the 1980s, Alito argued that a police officer was justified in shooting an unarmed 15-year-old trying to avoid arrest after a burglary. In the memo, written when the administration was weighing whether to get involved in a case that was then pending before the Supreme Court, Alito wrote that shooting was reasonable within the definition of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The young lawyer concluded that a "fleeing suspect in effect states to the police: 'Kill me or let me escape the legal process, at least for now.'" He added, "If every suspect could evade arrest by putting the state to this choice, societal order would quickly break down."
DEATH PENALTY: In an appeals court case that was overturned by the Supreme Court last year, Alito upheld a decision handed down in a 17-year-old Pennsylvania death penalty case. The defendant, convicted of robbing and killing a tavern owner, later argued his lawyers failed to consider important court material. A lower court sided with the defendant, but that decision was overturned on appeal. In a 2-1 opinion written for the majority, Alito said the defendant's lawyer had done enough to represent him.
JUDICIAL ACTIVISM: In a 64-page response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Alito said that federal judges must constantly guard against slipping into judicial activism to get the result they want on cases. Yet he said he saw no problem with federal judges creating strong remedies "when a constitutional or statutory violation has been proven."
RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS: As an appeals court judge, Alito appears to be a staunch defender of religious freedoms. In 1999, he wrote the majority opinion allowing Muslim police officers in Newark, N.J., to keep their beards, broadening an exemption the department had allowed only on medical grounds. That same year, he joined the majority in ruling that a City Hall holiday display in Jersey City, N.J., containing a creche, menorah, a banner celebrating diversity and secular symbols of the season did not offend the constitutional separation between church and state.
FREE SPEECH: As an appeals court judge in 2004, Alito helped to decide that a Pennsylvania law banning paid advertisements for alcohol in college newspapers was unconstitutional. In the ruling, he said that the state faces a heavy burden anytime it tries to restrict speech but had offered only "conjecture" to support its contention that the ad ban would slacken the demand for alcohol by underage college students.
HARASSMENT: In 1999, Alito wrote opinions that outlawed a school anti-harassment policy barring demeaning comments about race, religion or gender as overly broad. He also held that an Iranian woman could establish eligibility for asylum by showing she would be persecuted back home because of her sex, her belief in feminism or membership in a feminist group. And he supported a high school boy who had been bullied by students who saw him as gay and non-athletic, ruling in the majority that the school had not sufficiently protected him from the taunting.