When Samuel A. Alito Jr. graduated from Princeton University in 1972, he was clearly a young man on the move: His yearbook said he would “eventually warm a seat on the Supreme Court.”
And, in fact, his legal career has seemed scripted to do precisely that.
The man President Bush has chosen to become the 110th justice of the Supreme Court has an Ivy League pedigree and a blue-chip resume. The son of an immigrant, at age 40 he became one of the youngest people ever to sit on a federal appeals court.
Alito also has compiled ideological credentials -- a stint in the Reagan administration, participation in the conservative Federalist Society, and court opinions on abortion and religion in public life -- that make him a darling of conservative activists, whose criticism helped force White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers to withdraw her nomination last week.
He also has enough similarities to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia -- Italian American roots, pronounced conservative views -- that he has been dubbed “Scalito.”
But friends say the comparison is off-base, because Alito does not have the acerbic style that is Scalia’s trademark.
“Yes, he’s conservative and gives deference to statutes, but these opinions of Scalia are biting and critical,” said Tom Neuberger, a veteran civil rights lawyer in Delaware, who has appeared before Alito about half a dozen times in recent years. “I’ve never seen that in his writing.... I don’t think he has an agenda.”
Some friends are less apt to compare Alito to Scalia than to John G. Roberts Jr., Bush’s newly installed chief justice.
“There are about a half-dozen lawyers who are John’s equal -- and Sam is one of them,” said Charles J. Cooper, a lawyer who worked with Alito in the Justice Department during the Reagan years.
Although Alito’s career and education were blueblood, his roots were unpretentious. His late father, Samuel, came to the United States from Italy as an infant. Alito was born in Trenton, N.J., and grew up in the state capital’s suburbs.
His father was a schoolteacher and then director of New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services, a nonpartisan office that researches and writes legislation. Friends say Alito’s father inspired him to pursue a career in public service. His mother, Rose, who is about to turn 91, also was a teacher.
At the White House on Monday, Alito -- who graduated as valedictorian from his local public high school -- credited his mother with instilling in him and his sister, Rosemary, who is a lawyer in New Jersey, a “love of learning.”
“This was not a life of privilege,” said Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University, who worked with Alito at the Justice Department in the mid-1980s. “It was certainly not a life of deprivation, either. It was a family that took great pride in their children and wanted them to achieve educationally.... They saw that as an advantage they themselves did not have.”
At Princeton, Alito was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. He wrote his senior thesis on the Italian court system, based on research he conducted in Rome and Bologna in the summer of 1971, according to the class yearbook. The prediction that he would end up on the Supreme Court was disclosed Monday by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a fellow Princeton graduate, when Alito met with Senate GOP leaders.
“My real ambition at the time was to be the commissioner of baseball,” said Alito, an ardent fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. “I never dreamed that this day would actually arrive.”
At Yale Law School, Alito “was very much like the finished product,” said Dan Rabinowitz, a former classmate, longtime friend and self-described liberal Democrat. “He was enormously intelligent, very disciplined and hard-working -- a little shy and not inclined to make small talk, unless you are a Philadelphia Phillies fan, in which case you are his friend for life.”
Some classmates remember Alito as unassuming and not particularly strident about his political views. One says Alito’s reserve in law school is reflected on the bench.
“He does not ask a lot of questions on the bench, because he only asks good questions,” said Peter Goldberger, who practices law frequently in Alito’s court. “That’s the way he was in school: He would raise his hand twice a semester, and when he did, you’d be stunned at what came out of his mouth; he was so smart and incisive.”
After graduation from law school, Alito clerked for Judge Leonard I. Garth, a President Nixon appointee to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Alito has sat on that same court since 1990.
After his stint with Garth, Alito joined the U.S. attorney’s office in Newark, N.J., where colleagues saw his personal shyness drop away in court.
“He is a reserved person,” said Maryanne Trump Barry, who headed the appellate section in Newark when Alito joined the office and, since 1999, has sat on the appeals court with him. “But then he gets into court, and he isn’t reserved at all.”
Like Roberts, Alito served in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration -- arguing a dozen cases before the Supreme Court as an assistant solicitor general, and then providing legal advice to the executive branch as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel.
Alito argued his first case before the high court in 1982, when, as he recalled Monday, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave him an easy opening question because she sensed “that I was a rookie.”
“I was grateful to her on that happy occasion,” he said.
Alito returned to Newark in 1987 as the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, where one of his first acts was to hire Michael Chertoff, the current Homeland Security secretary, as his chief assistant.
The office brought one of the first international terrorism cases, prevailing over a reputed member of the revolutionary Japanese Red Army who had been picked up on the New Jersey Turnpike with three pipe bombs in his car.
During Alito’s tenure, the government lost a major organized crime trial that dragged on for almost two years. In another case, an assistant U.S. attorney in Alito’s office was found to have fabricated death threats against herself while prosecuting two Indians accused of being terrorists.
Alito was nominated to the court of appeals by President Bush’s father in 1990, when he became the second-youngest person to serve on a federal court at that level. His nomination was so uncontroversial that it was approved without a formal roll call.
It was on the appeals court that Alito wrote the opinions that have given many conservatives so much confidence that he will move the Supreme Court to the right on the social issues they care most about.
He was the lone dissenter in a crucial abortion rights case in 1991, when his court struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring married women seeking abortions to notify their husbands.
In a ruling on religion in the public sphere, Alito wrote a 1999 opinion holding that a city’s display that included a creche and a menorah was not an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state.
Alito is a practicing Catholic, but he rarely discusses his faith; some who have known him for years were unaware of his religious affiliation. “In 30 years of our friendship, we haven’t had a single conversation about religion,” Rabinowitz said.
Those who know Alito best say he has just three loves: baseball, his family and the law.
“If you said to me where is Sam Alito, I would guess at the ballpark, home with his family or at the library. Those are the three places he lives his life,” said Jay Jorgensen, who clerked for Alito in Newark in 1997 and practices law in Washington.
Alito met his wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, at the U.S. attorney’s office, where she was a research librarian. Friends describe her as being as outgoing and extroverted as Alito is reserved.
Despite his hard-driving legal career, Alito has always carved out time for his children, coaching his son’s Little League team and driving his daughter to swim practice when they were younger. His daughter, Laura, is 17; his son, Philip, is 19. Apparently following in his father’s footsteps, Philip, while he was a high school senior, placed first in a mock trial competition in 2004 at Duke University.
A few years ago, Alito’s wife set up a vacation for him at a fantasy baseball camp, where he got to rub elbows with some of his beloved Phillies. He even had baseball cards made with his own image, holding a bat and “looking serious,” said Carter G. Phillips, a Washington lawyer who has known Alito for years.
“After a promising start, Sam’s baseball career stalled for about 25 years, but now it is picking up again,” the card says, according to Phillips. “Look for him as a 50-year-old rookie in 2000.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Samuel A. Alito Jr.
* Age: 55
* Born: April 1, 1950, in Trenton, N.J.
* Education: bachelor’s degree, Princeton University, 1972; law degree, Yale University, 1975.
* Experience: judge, U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, 1990-present (nominated by President George H.W. Bush); U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, 1987-90; deputy assistant U.S. attorney general, Department of Justice, 1985-87; assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, Department of Justice, 1981-85; assistant U.S. attorney, District of New Jersey, 1977-81.
* Family: married to Martha-Ann Bomgardner; two children, Philip, 19, and Laura, 17. His late father, Samuel Alito Sr., was director of New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services from 1952-1984.
* Home: West Caldwell, N.J.
Sources: Los Angeles Times,
Los Angeles Times