Bench Memos

Judge Alito’s Opening Statement

It was masterful, sincere, perfect. He spoke for 11 minutes — twice as long as Chief Justice Roberts — with no notes. He paid tribute to Justice O’Connor. He paid tribute to his parents: that “I am who I am” — because of them. He spoke of how parents teach even more powerfully through their deeds than their words.

He spoke of his father, an Italian immigrant, made it to college through perseverance and the kindness of others, then served in the Pacific in World War II, became a teacher, and worked for the New Jersey legislature. It was a story, he said, about “the opportunities this country offers.”

He spoke of how his mother, from a culture where women had remained in the house, was the first person in her family to go to college.

He introduced his own children with pride, as well as his sister, his wife, and her parents.

He spoke beautifully about how when he became a judge, he stopped being a lawyer. This powerful lesson about the difference between the role of advocate and the role of judge is central to what divides Senators over his nomination, and the more Americans understand this, the more they will know Judge Alito is correct.

When Judge Alito put on his black robes 15 years ago, his obligation was no longer to any client, he explained: he has no preferred outcome or client in any case. A judge, he said, has only a “solemn obligation to the rule of law.”

He spoke of the “habits of mind” that good judges develop, like delaying a decision until he has examined every bit of information. He said plainly: “no person in this country is above the law, and no person is beneath it.”. (Note: This is what “equal justice under law” means, Senator Kennedy.)

The humility, dedication, and civility that came through Judge Alito’s opening statement was a quiet but powerful refutation of the Kennedy extremism and distortion.

Combined with the strong introduction by Christie Whitman, it was a great first day.

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