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April 25, 2012

Fascinating comments from Justice Alito about "most academic" Supreme Court

Thanks to a link from How Appealing, I saw this press release from Columbia Law School titled "U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Says Pragmatism, Stability Should Guide Court." As the title hints, there is much of interest in what Justice Alito had to say at Columbia Law School’s conference on Burkean Constitutionalism.  And I found these passages from the press release especially noteworthy:

In his lunchtime speech, Alito wrested Burke’s legacy from the realm of theory. “He was not a theorist, and I am not a theorist,” Alito said, before distinguishing himself from other members of the current Supreme Court.  “I feel almost outnumbered,” he said, noting that the Court has four former professors.  “The Supreme Court these days is the most academic in the history of the country.  We’re at a tipping point where we might tip into the purely theoretical realm.”...

For Alito, the virtue of Burke is stability: If judges are bound to respect prior decisions, he said, they’re less likely to risk the unintended consequences of “ill-considered judicial innovations.”

Sticking to established rules, Alito said, is good policy for judges who make decisions under isolated conditions and with limited resources.  He noted that judicial decisions “are discrete exercises of individual judgment, so they are more prone to error or ideological manipulation."

I am inclinded to suspect that Justice Alito might be thinking particularly of Blakely and Booker when he talks about “ill-considered judicial innovations.”  I am also inclinded to wonder whether and how these comments provide a tea leaf of sorts concerning how Justice Alito is approaching all the blockbuster cases still pending on the SCOTUS docket this Term.

April 25, 2012 at 12:18 PM | Permalink


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It is not at all surprising that Alito believes in "pragmatism" over "theory." The latter sometimes leads you to results you don't agree with. The former, however, is more results-oriented.

Alito is the most results-oriented Justice on the current court. Therefore, it is little surprise that he espouses the belief that is more concerned with outcomes than legal principles.

Posted by: anon | Apr 25, 2012 12:28:19 PM

Anon nailed it.

Posted by: anon2 | Apr 25, 2012 2:02:32 PM

Of course YOU are inclined to think of Blakely and Booker. Wasn't that your reaction to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"? I am inclined to suspect that Justice Alito will forget this speech and vote to radically innovate the interpretation of the commerce clause in a manner some will undoubtedly view as ideological manipulation.

Posted by: Matt | Apr 26, 2012 12:09:54 PM

For the record, Matt, there are lots of interesting sentencing issues in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." And do not even get me started on Blakely/Booker issues lurking in The Hunger Games or even The Three Stooges... ;-)

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 26, 2012 6:53:12 PM

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