Thursday, January 12, 2006

As this is being written the public confirmation hearings for 3rd Circuit judge Samuel Alito are in their last day. He has been nominated to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

He is clearly cut from a different bolt of cloth than John Roberts is.

It is my hope that Mr. Chief Justice Roberts will bring a certain modesty and midwestern habit of plain speaking and common sense to the Court that has been lacking in recent years. He impressed me as a thoughtful, intelligent and modest man who would be a useful counter to the intellectual gymnastics and sharp words of Justice Scalia and his Charlie McCarthy-like pal Clarence Thomas. Justice Scalia's main problem is that he thinks he's smarter than everyone else, knows better than us what's good for the rest of us and is out to prove it whether we like it or not.

I do not yet have a fix on Sam Alito except that I distrust people who smile all the time-it seems as if it's an effort calculated to deflect any probing inquiry. It's a habit that we often see in women but it is less frequently seen in men. It seems as if it is a promise that is never going to be delivered on, intended to gain a temporary advantage, or a put down all at once.

Time will tell whether he is a smartypants or a dissembler when he gets to the Court as he likely will. Even though he is from my home state of New Jersey, and there is 2 years difference between us, and we're both lawyers, we don't (and never did) inhabit the same world. I grew up in a different New Jersey than he did.

When Sam was learning his chops as a lawyer I was working in a paper mill as a millhand. When he was climbing the ladder of federal service, I was camped out on a sofa in my father's apartment, because I was paying support for two young 'uns. When he was an assistant U.S. Attorney, I was selling auto parts, riding a B.S.A. motorcycle, and not thinking much about the future. When he was working in the Reagan administration, I was setting out across country in a 75 dollar Ford Falcon with my life savings of $700 in my pocket to attend technical school in a state and city I'd never been to.

Time will tell whether he rises to the occasion or makes common cause with the bickerers and cavillers who are now the minority in the Court. If he does the latter, it's going to be a long hard slog before things get better.


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