October 31, 2005 – Samuel Alito Nominated to the Supreme Court

On July 1, 2005, Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court effective upon the confirmation of a successor. President George W. Bush first nominated John Roberts to the vacancy; however, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died on September 3 of that year, Bush withdrew Roberts’ nomination to fill O’Connor’s seat and instead nominated Roberts for the position of Chief Justice.

On October 3, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace O’Connor. Miers withdrew her acceptance of the nomination on October 27 after encountering widespread opposition. On this day in history, President Bush announced that he was nominating Samuel Alito to O’Connor’s seat, and he submitted the nomination to the Senate on November 10, 2005. His appointment was confirmed by a 58-42 vote in the Senate in early 2006.

Justice Samuel Alito

Alito was born in Trenton, New Jersey on April 1, 1950. Both of his parents were teachers, and his father was an Italian immigrant. He attended Princeton University, and in the yearbook stated that he hoped to become a Supreme Court Justice one day.

After graduating from Princeton in 1972, Alito went to Yale Law School and following graduation in 1975 he began clerking in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit under Judge Leonard Garth. In 1977, Alito accepted a position as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. Alito became an Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General four years later. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed Alito as the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

President George H. W. Bush nominated Alito to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1990, a position that was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, and in which he served for sixteen years.

Justice Alito, one of the Court’s most conservative justices, is, as the Oyez site characterizes him, “known for his right wing leanings that sometimes encompass libertarian ideals.”

For example, in Shelby County v. Holder, Alito joined Chief Justice Roberts invalidating a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. In Gonzales v. Carhart, both justices joined an opinion upholding a federal law restricting abortions that, as an analysis in “The Atlantic” points out, was materially identical to a state law the Court had struck down just seven years earlier.

Alito also wrote the Court’s 5-4 decision in another significant case affecting women’s rights in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in which the Court allowed for-profit companies to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their employees, as required by the Affordable Care Act, if the companies’ owners objected to the use of contraceptives for religious reasons. As the Chicago Tribune reported, in a 2017 speech sponsored by Advocati Christi, a group of Catholic lawyers and judges who seek to “provide an opportunity for lawyers learn about the Catholic faith and Catholic social teaching and to help them integrate these into their life and practice,” Alito reiterated his belief that the Hobby Lobby decision was about “religious freedom,” and that the country is too “hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs.”

He observed:

We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls. But the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom.”

Alito’s record on the Court has almost always been consistent with his religious and conservative ideology.

As “The Atlantic” article noted (the authors were writing in 2016 (before Gorsuch joined the Court):

Even Justices Scalia and Thomas have areas (most notably, some areas of criminal procedure) in which their votes are clearly in play. But it’s difficult to say what those areas or cases might be when it comes to Alito. And that’s surely why, 10 years into his tenure, it appears there’s no one to the right of Alito on the current Court.”

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