This essay is part of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy’s The Jurisprudence of Justice Samuel A. Alito: A Symposium.
Samuel A. Alito, Jr. was sworn into office as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States on January 31, 2006. As we can say with the benefit of hindsight, that proved to be one of the most pivotal moments in the Supreme Court’s modern history, with deep and lasting effects on our constitutional law and culture, as well as on the nation as a whole. Justice Alito filled the seat vacated by Sandra Day O’Connor. Over the course of her 25-year tenure, O’Connor had at times departed from the text and original public understanding of the Constitution in the service of evolving values or a professed concern for the Court’s public standing. Most notably, on both grounds, O’Connor in 1992 joined Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter to uphold the abortion right fabricated in 1973 in Roe v. Wade.
Over his own more than 15 years on the Court, Alito has consistently honored our longstanding legal traditions and the text, logic, structure, and original understanding of the Constitution. This comes as no surprise; Alito had established himself on the Third Circuit as a judge “both admired and assailed for his conservative judicial philosophy” (as some today characterize a policy of respect for the Constitution’s text and history). Once on the Supreme Court, Alito’s judicial philosophy changed not a whit even in high-profile cases, where the pressure from intellectuals, journalists, and other cultural elites hits its peak. Instead, Alito’s opinions—whether for the majority or in concurrence or dissent—have promoted the rule of law by honoring the text, logic, structure, and historical understanding of the Constitution as a whole and of its specific provisions. And if Casey captures much about his predecessor’s approach, the best distillation of Alito’s own tenure is and will surely remain his opinion for the Court overturning Casey and Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That opinion showcased his acumen and precision, his fidelity to the Founding, and his courage under enormous pressure—the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion, death threats, offensive and often intimidating protests at the Justices’ homes, and an assassination plot against one of them.
Now more than ever, that jurisprudence and judicial temperament deserve a closer look. So, it is my especially great honor to introduce this collection of Essays offering the most sustained and systematic analysis of Justice Alito’s work over 30 years on the bench and 16 terms on the Supreme Court. In each Essay to follow, a prominent legal scholar or leading jurist analyzes Alito’s general approach to law or his thought on substantive areas ranging from criminal law and federal courts to constitutional and statutory interpretation.
A full PDF is available to download here.