Bench Memos

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NY Times on Alito and His Father


The substance of this New York Times article about Alito and his father is favorable to Alito, but a number of odd passages seem designed to suggest that Alito’s account of his father is contrived. Consider:

“When a Democratic senator asked the Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. why he might empathize with the plight of minorities or the poor, he had his answer ready: the example of his late father, an Italian immigrant who in college once defended a black basketball player from discrimination on the team.”

“As Judge Alito prepares for his confirmation hearings next month, the elder Mr. Alito is emerging as a larger-than-life hero in the story his son presents to the public.”

“Judge Alito has often invoked his father’s legacy to help deflect questions from skeptical Democrats.”

“Still, some colleagues and friends of the elder Mr. Alito, who died in 1987, said they had never heard some of the stories his son has recounted, including the episode about his support for the black student . . . .”

“Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the White House, said no one in the administration had instructed Judge Alito to recount stories about his father.”
“The story about discrimination that Judge Alito told senators dates to February 1935, when the New Jersey state college his father was attending agreed to bench a black basketball player for a game with a segregated teachers’ college.”

“’Alito wanted to tell me this story [about the black basketball player],’ said Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and one of the two senators who described the conversations. ‘I didn’t pry it out of him.’”

As Stuart Taylor e-mailed me (in words he has given me permission to quote): “Taken together, these [passages] strike me as designed to carry an insinuation that Alito is being insincere about idolizing his father, that this is all a show being put on for confirmation purposes, even that maybe his father did not defend a black basketball player at all.”

What is particularly odd about this presentation is that the article itself confirms that Alito’s father did in fact defend a black basketball player against discrimination: “The elder Mr. Alito was the editor in chief of the college newspaper, which published an editorial calling the matter ‘an embarrassing affair involving the worst in racial animosities and sectionalism.’ The paper urged the school to put the player in for the next game or sever all relations ‘with institutions differing on the Negro situation,’ according to a copy in the college archives.”


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