UB Law School hosts Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

Alito discusses family life and interpretations of the law

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito thinks Buffalo’s resurgence is proof that the “American Dream” is still alive.

Alito spoke at Shea’s Performing Art’s Center on Oct. 20. UB Law School and law firm Hodgson Russ hosted the exclusive question-and-answer session. Interim Law School Dean James Gardner and Hodgson Russ Chairman Daniel C. Oliverio moderated the conversation with Alito.

Alito discussed his experience as the frequent lone dissenter on the Supreme Court and the importance of remaining independent from politics as a Supreme Court Justice.

Alito also spoke about his family life.

When Alito’s father immigrated to the U.S. from Italy, he worked in a factory after graduating top of his high school class. He said he would never have gone to college if it weren’t for a $50 scholarship someone gave him.

“I don’t know who provided it, but I’m grateful to that person because it changed the whole history of our country,” Alito said.

After law school, Alito said he wasn’t sure he wanted to go into legal practice. He began his career with a year-long clerkship on the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“After the year was up, I was really sorry to leave and I thought, ‘You know, I really know what this job involves, I’m ready to be a circuit court judge right now – why doesn’t the president appoint me?” Alito said. “Well, that’s arrogance of youth and I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.”

Yet Alito went on to serve for 15 years as a judge on the third circuit court. In 2006, President George W. Bush nominated Alito to the highest court in the nation.

Since his tenure as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, Alito has been the only dissenting opinion for many decisions.

The moderators asked Alito if being the sole “no vote” takes courage. Alito said it doesn’t take courage, but provides a vital role for the court by forcing the other justices to consider potential weaknesses in their arguments.

“If when the vote is taken, I find that I’m the only one who has taken a particular position, I do think it’s incumbent on me to rethink my position and ask myself, ‘have I missed something, have I gotten carried away,’” Alito said. “I think it’s helpful sometimes to let a few days go by then come back to it again and think it through again when I’m not so angry with my colleagues for being so obtuse,” he said jokingly.

The moderators challenged Alito on his interpretation of the constitution. In some instances, the Justice has called for originalism, a belief in interpreting the constitution strictly as the founders intended.

Gardner pointed out Alito has mocked originalist thinking from his colleagues, quoting a Supreme Court transcript where Alito said, “I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games. Did he enjoy them?"

The audience laughed.

Alito clarified his stance saying he does believe the constitution is a stable, “non-living document,” but sometimes there are no historical analogies to look to, as in cases dealing with violent video games or GPS trackers, he said.

Students from UB Law School asked Alito if he thinks it is a good time to become a lawyer. Alito encouraged students to go into law with “eyes wide open,” because although it can be rewarding, it has challenges many do not see until up close.

“It has not disappointed me at all, I have enjoyed it from my first day on the third circuit and I’m still enjoying it on the Supreme Court,” Alito said.

Katrina Loss, a first-year law student who attended the event, said she was surprised how genuine the discussion was and found it informative.

“I kind of wanted to know what his thoughts were on the current political situation, I thought for sure that was going to be a question, but we hear so much about it, it’s kind of nice that it wasn’t brought up,” said Bridget Morgan, a first-year law student.

“I saw the invitation and thought when will we ever get the chance again to hear a Supreme Court Justice talk, so we kind of took advantage of the opportunity and it was great that we were able to do this,” Morgan said.

Alito mingled with attendees after the discussion for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

Sarah Crowley is the assistant news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com