Samuel Alito

Samuel Alito Biography

(1950–)
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After a lengthy career as an attorney, Samuel Alito was confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 2006.

Who Is Samuel Alito?

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito attended Princeton University and Yale Law School before beginning a long career as an attorney. He worked for the Department of Justice and as a U.S. attorney for New Jersey before being selected to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1990. Sixteen years later he was nominated to become a Supreme Court Justice by President George W. Bush and has tended to rule along conservative lines.

Early Life and Education

Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on April 1, 1950, the son of Italian immigrants. His father was a teacher and director of the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, his mother was a school principal and both were primary influences in his academic pursuits. Alito attended Steinert High School in the suburb of Trenton where he was raised and excelled in his studies, gaining acceptance to Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

While at Princeton, Alito led a conference that supported a restriction on the gathering of domestic intelligence and increased rights for homosexuals. Despite these apparently liberal leanings, he was also a member of a campus group that opposed affirmative action. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1972, Alito attended Yale Law School and was the editor of the Yale Law Journal. He graduated from the institution in 1975 and moved to Newark, New Jersey, to begin his career.

Legal Career

Beginning in 1976, Alito worked as a law clerk for Judge Leonard I. Garth of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before being hired as an assistant district attorney for the District of New Jersey. In this capacity, he prosecuted both drug trafficking and organized crime cases, which he felt particularly invested in, as he felt that mobsters gave Italian Americans a bad name. After four years with the district attorney’s office, Alito moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as an assistant to the solicitor general for the Department of Justice and argued cases for the government before the Supreme Court, a seat on which he had set his sights years earlier.

In 1985, Alito married Martha-Ann Bomgardner, with whom he has two children. That same year, he became the deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, a post which he held until 1987 when he returned to New Jersey as a U.S. attorney and prosecuted cases for the next three years. With his work as a U.S. attorney, much of which was devoted to fighting organized crime, Alito had made a name for himself as a highly competent legal mind.

From Judge to Supreme Court Justice

In 1990, George H. W. Bush chose Alito to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He spent 16 years on the court and during his tenure among the conservative minority, he frequently issued the dissenting opinion, including in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which he was the only judge to argue that a provision of a Pennsylvania statute that required women to inform their husbands prior to receiving an abortion should have been upheld. During his time with the Court of Appeals, Alito was also an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, where he taught constitutional law and a course on terrorism and civil liberties.

Samuel Alito Photo

An official portrait of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito taken in 2007.

On October 31, 2005, President George W. Bush chose Alito to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. After contentious confirmation hearings, during which time Senator John Kerry attempted a filibuster and the American Civil Liberties Union officially opposed his nomination, stating that his record “showed a willingness to support government actions that abridge individual freedoms,” in January 2006, Alito was confirmed by a narrow margin of 58–42.

Obamacare and Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

During his time on the Supreme Court, Alito has tended to vote along conservative lines, only occasionally breaking away. In 2015, he stayed true to his record by issuing dissent in two landmark rulings. On June 25, he was one of three justices—along with Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who delivered a scathing dissenting opinion to the Court—to oppose the upholding of a critical component of the 2010 Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell. The decision allows the federal government to continue providing subsidies to Americans who purchase health care through "exchanges," regardless of whether they are state or federally operated. The majority ruling, read by Chief Justice John Roberts, was a massive victory for President Barack Obama and makes the Affordable Care Act difficult to undo.

On June 26, the Supreme Court handed down its second historic decision in as many days, with a 5–4 majority ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Alito again joined the conservative minority in opposition to the ruling, writing in his dissent that same-sex marriage is “contrary to long-established tradition” and that the decision would be “exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

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