The Forces That Molded Judge Alito ; Family and the Law Figure Prominently in Shaping the Character of Court Nominee

Article excerpt

The man who could be the nation's next Supreme Court justice is smart, hard-working, quiet, self-effacing, even shy. But if you really want to understand appeals court judge Samuel Alito, focus on three things, say those who know him best: his family, the law, and the Philadelphia Phillies.

They paint a picture of a busy judge, the father of two, sorting through legal briefs among spectators in the stands at school swim meets, or taking his kids - and law clerks - to root for his beloved Phillies.

"When he was coaching his son's baseball team, he would leave the office wearing a full baseball uniform," says Jeffrey Wasserstein, a law clerk for Judge Alito in 1997-98. "Here is a federal judge leaving the office in cleats and those stirrup socks and everything."

Since his nomination to the US Supreme Court by President Bush on Oct. 31, Judge Alito has come under attack by liberal analysts and a coalition of women's rights and civil rights groups who say he is a conservative ideologue. But longtime associates and friends of the Alito family say Alito is very much a reflection of his parents, Rose, who still lives in Alito's boyhood home in Hamilton Township, N.J., and Sam Sr., who died in 1987. He is motivated more by intellect and public service, they say, than a quest for wealth or political power.

"His father came [from Italy] as a 14-year-old immigrant, and by the time he was in his 20s he was teaching high school English," says Jack Lacy, a former Hamilton Township councilman and family friend for 50 years. "To me that is quite an accomplishment, considering he came here speaking Italian."

Sam Sr. went on to run the Legislative Services Commission at the New Jersey legislature. It was a nonpartisan research office tasked to assist lawmakers in the intensely partisan state legislature.

"Sam Alito Sr. was a highly principled man who would not bend to political pressure," Mr. Lacy says. "Regardless of who was in power, Mr. Alito did not lower the standards of that office to meet political expediency."

Albert Parroni worked closely with Alito's father and now runs the same office. "I think young Sam knew what Sam Sr. was going through" working at the center of what could be at times a partisan hornet's nest, says Mr. Parroni. He says Judge Alito has carried his father's tight-lipped, nonpartisan stance onto the federal bench.

Others agree with this assessment. "Sam is in my view a genuinely apolitical person," says Daniel Rabinowitz, a classmate at Yale Law School who also served with Alito in the US Attorney's Office in Newark, N.J. "He was imbued with a sense of nonpartisan public service from his dad."

Mr. Rabinowitz, who describes himself as a "yellow dog Democrat," adds: "That's why I have a hard time fitting Sam into any kind of partisan category. We've been friends for 30 years, I assume he's a registered Republican, but I don't even know that."

David Loretto, an Alito clerk in 2002-03, describes a similar experience.

"I'm extremely liberal," he says. "I've had friends come up to me and say, 'I didn't know you worked for such an extremely conservative judge.' "

Mr. Loretto smiles. "My reply was: Neither did I."

Alito's reticence makes it almost impossible to tell how and where his conservatism was shaped - and even how conservative he may be. A rare break in that nonpartisan posture came 20 years ago when Alito was applying for a job in the Reagan administration. "I am and always have been a conservative," his cover letter began. …

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