Supreme Court Justice Alito Speaks to 3L Class

February 24, 2016 —

As an assistant to the solicitor general in the 1980s, now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. found arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court “a tremendous thrill.” Though oral arguments were nerve-wracking at first, the very first question he fielded, from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, put him quickly at ease. 

In retrospect, it was a glimpse of his future career path. And on February 23, Alito shared his experiences with a group of more than 300 (mostly 3L) Georgetown Law students about to embark upon their own legal careers. 

The justice’s visit here marked the third annual Dean’s Lecture to the Graduating Class, moderated by Dean William M. Treanor and Professor Randy Barnett. Alito — who succeeded O’Connor in 2006 — recalled his father doing research for the New Jersey legislature, drawing maps following the 1964 redistricting case of Reynolds v. Sims. “It started me thinking about the Constitution,” he said.

Alito would later take political science classes on the Constitution and the judiciary as an undergraduate at Princeton. In law school at Yale, he took torts with Guido Calabresi, later a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Though he thought about teaching, Alito would go on to clerk for Judge Leonard I. Garth on the 3rd Circuit and was ready to join the bench himself when the clerkship was over. “I did not have a plan … at every stage, I asked myself, what’s the best thing to do next?” he said.

Jobs as a federal prosecutor, in the SG’s office, in the Office of Legal Counsel and as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey would follow before Alito made it to the 3rd Circuit himself. Fifteen years later, he joined the High Court.

Responding to a question on Justice Scalia’s successor, Alito said that is up to the Article I and Article II branches of government. And regarding the question of an eight-member Court, Alito replied that nothing in the Constitution specifies what the size of the Supreme Court should be. 

“We will deal with it,” he said. “What has happened in the last week has been a great shock to us, and we just started back in business hearing arguments yesterday.”