Aziz Huq Writes About How to Understand Justice Alito

Opinion | Samuel Alito: One Angry Man

It’s easy to caricature Justice Samuel Alito, author of the draft opinion striking down Roe v. Wade, as an arch-conservative. His relentlessly right-of-center votes tell as much. Likewise, his early, subtly disparaging nickname, “Scalito,” suggests he is a mere mini-me clone of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. But this sells short Alito, who will be a senior and guiding figure in the Supreme Court’s newly empowered conservative bloc.

For Alito is not just a conservative. He’s not a consistent “originalist” in the vein of Scalia or Justice Clarence Thomas, only a “practical” one. The key to understanding Alito is not judicial philosophy or ardent conservativism: it’s his anger — an anger that resonates with the sentiments of many voters, especially white and male ones, who feel displaced by recent social and cultural changes. If you want to understand what to expect from the post-Roberts Court, paying attention to that anger pays dividends.

In both his public actions and his opinions, Alito has a confrontational, take-no-quarter approach. It offers a sharp contrast with his fellow Catholic, fellow alumnus of the executive branch and fellow former court-of-appeals-judge John Roberts. Partly this is a matter of each man drifting a different way over time — Roberts to the left in his role as a chief trying to steer his court, Alito to the right less tethered by commitment to the court as an institution. Yet that differing pattern of ideological change is also fueled by their distinct temperaments and bedrock beliefs.

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