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Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.

Common Courtesy Can Get You in Trouble



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The New York Times and the Washington Post today both report that Justice Samuel Alito wrote a brief note to Dr. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, thanking him for his support during the confirmation process, and saying, among other things, “as long as I serve on the Supreme Court, I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me.” Apparently some people see something sinister in this, as though Alito were not-so-subtly pledging himself to Dobson’s political agenda in his capacity as a Supreme Court justice. But of course “the trust that has been placed” in Alito is the trust of the American people, as embodied in their Constitution, which Alito swore to uphold in his oath of office. No less, and no more. The Post has the text of Alito’s perfectly innocuous note if readers want to check for themselves.

Both newspapers checked with the Supreme Court’s spokesperson, Kathy Arberg, who noted that it was Dobson who initiated the correspondence, and that Alito has “responded to scores of congratulatory letters from people of all walks of life,” commonly including such a stock expression about living up to the trust placed in him.

Write what you like and say what you like, Justice Alito. You have your job during “good behavior,” and being polite is never bad behavior. But it is sad to note that in some quarters, good manners are bad politics.



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