Samuel Alito: Who is the Supreme Court justice who wrote opinion overturning Roe v Wade?

Mr Alito is the author of the opinion that overturned the landmark Roe v Wade case

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Friday 24 June 2022 17:57
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After Politico published a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning the right to an abortion under Roe v Wade earlier this year and then the subsequent official opinion was released on Friday, veteran court-watchers were not surprised to see that both the draft decision and actual decision’s author was Justice Samuel Alito.

The 73-year-old jurist is the high court’s third most senior Republican appointee and has long been considered one of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

A native of New Jersey, Mr Alito attended Princeton University as a undergraduate and joined the US army through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program as a sophomore. Upon graduation in 1972, he received a commission as a second lieutenant, but spent the next three years attending law school at Yale University.

According to The Washington Post, Mr Alito only spent several months on active duty following his law school graduation and completed his military service on active reserve from 1975 to 1980, when he was discharged at the rank of captain. He is currently the only member of the US Supreme Court to have served in the US armed forces.

Mr Alito spent the entirety of his practicing legal career in government service, first as a clerk for a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and later with the Department of Justice.

From 1977 to 1981, he was an assistant US attorney for the District of New Jersey whose job entailed handling cases in appellate court under the supervision of future Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, then the chief of the New Jersey district’s appeals division. Ms Barry, who is the sister of former president Donald Trump, would later recommend him for a seat on the Third Circuit.

Mr Alito moved to Washington in 1981 to take a job as a deputy US solicitor general during the Reagan administration. Between 1981 and 1985 he would argue 12 cases before the Supreme Court, winning ten of them.

From 1985 to 1987 he served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and in 1987 he returned to New Jersey as the US Attorney for that judicial district.

Three years later, then-president George HW Bush nominated Mr Alito to a seat on the Third Circuit. He was confirmed to that seat by unanimous consent.

He was George W Bush’s third choice for a Supreme Court seat

When Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement on 1 July 2005, then-president George W Bush nominated then-District of Columbia Circuit Judge John Roberts as her replacement.

Three months later, Mr Bush withdrew Mr Roberts’ nomination to Ms O’Connor’s seat and re-nominated him to be Chief Justice following the death of William Rehnquist, who had served as Chief Justice of the United States for the previous 19 years.

He then selected his White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, as Ms O’Connor’s replacement, but she asked him to withdraw her nomination. The withdrawal came after she encountered stiff opposition from conservatives who did not believe she had a strong enough record of opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and other issues important to the Republican Party, as well as from senators of both parties who considered her unqualified to serve on the highest court in the US.

Mr Bush then turned to Mr Alito as his second choice for Mr O’Connor’s seat. Unlike his confirmation to the Third Circuit, his nomination met strong resistance from Democrats, only four of whom voted to elevate him to the high court.

Since joining the court, Mr Alito has consistently ruled in favour of laws restricting abortion and has authored opinions which critics say insert the court into politics on the side of Republicans.

In Burwell v Hobby Lobby, his majority opinion set out a new precedent under which privately held corporations could be exempt from regulations if the owners of the corporation had a religious objection to them.

The case struck down the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for employers to provide employees with contraception as part of corporate health care plans.

He would have required husbands to notify their wives if they sought abortions

Although Mr Alito once authored a memorandum urging the Reagan administration to avoid directly challenging Roe v Wade in a 1985 case dealing with a Pennsylvania law known as the Abortion Control Act while serving at the Justice Department, he took a far different position once he was on the bench.

As a member of a three-judge panel hearing the Planned Parenthood v Casey case his draft opinion would overrule, Mr Alito dissented from the two-judge majority who struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring a woman to first inform her husband if she planned to have an abortion. He also wrote that he would have upheld the entire law, which also set out a waiting period and parental consent requirements for minors.

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