January 6, 2006

Direct Perspectives on Samuel Alito II

Carroll Andrew Morse

In modern politics, the loudest chatter heard about a Supreme Court nominee -- Samuel Alito included -- usually comes from those who know the nominee as little more than the sum of a paper trail. Anchor Rising was given one more opportunity (click here to read our earlier interview with former Alito law clerk Susan Sullivan) to supplement the paper trail by talking to people who know Judge Alito personally.

Mark Dwyer was Samuel Alito’s roommate at Yale law school. Mr. Dwyer is currently Chief of the New York County District Attorney’s Appeals Bureau. Thomas Gentile was a law clerk for Judge Alito in 1996-1997 on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. He is currently a partner with the law firm of Lampf, Lipkind, Prupis, and Petigrow. Here’s what Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Gentile think about the man who will stand before the Senate Judiciary Committee starting next week…

Anchor Rising: Were you surprised when you heard that Samuel Alito had been nominated to the Supreme Court?

Mark Dwyer: Only in the sense that even the best person is a huge longshot to get that lone nomination that comes along. I’ve never known anybody who was better suited and who seemed pointed in that direction any more than Sam. He’s been fascinated by the court and by the appellate process and appellate law ever since college. And he obviously went through the steps that would make him a natural nominee. In that sense, it’s a perfect fruition of what he’s been doing his whole career. At the same time, you don’t expect lightning to strike the guy you know, because it's just against the odds.

Thomas Gentile: I agree completely. There is no question that Judge Alito is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. As soon as President Bush was elected back in 2000, you began to hear discussions of Judge Alito as possibly being a nominee to the Supreme Court when an opening came up. So in that sense, I wasn’t surprised. But on the same note, there was something very surreal about turning on my TV on the morning of October 31 and seeing my old boss standing up there with President Bush.

AR: To me, the toughest part of finding someone who will be a good Supreme Court Justice seems to be finding someone who’s got the ambition to want to sit on the highest court of the greatest nation on earth but also has the humility to respect legal precedent and decisions made by legislatures. Can you give us any insight into how you’ve seen Judge Alito combine these disparate impulses?

MD: You’re certainly right. It’s a hard thing to find. Sam plainly has them both, and it’s just a remarkable combination. In terms of his drive and ambition, ever since I knew him in college, and certainly when I was rooming with him in law school, he was the guy who was burning the midnight oil. He was studying, studying, studying. It wasn’t really labor to him because he loved the stuff. He loved learning what he was learning; it was so natural for him to enjoy all of that. He was really good at it. And all through his career, he put in that same kind of intense work/play in fooling around with the legal concepts in learning appellate law and being a great appellate judge. So he’s got that drive. Does he want to be on the Supreme Court, does he have that ambition? Sure. But even without that goal in mind, he was going to be doing that same stuff anyway, because it’s just so natural for him.

The humility part is so natural for him also. He is a shy, nice, pleasant guy. I know that from living with him for a couple of years, three years actually, it’s just inherent in his personality to be that kind of guy, to be respectful of everybody he’s dealing with including all the people he has to work with who aren’t as smart as he is and people who are as smart as he is. Everybody, whether a judge or in the clerks’ office gets the same nice treatment from Sam Alito.

TG: I’ve worked in two of the biggest law firms in America for ten years and Judge Alito is, by far, the most brilliant legal mind I have ever encountered -- including all of my law professors at Harvard. But he couples that intellectual capacity with a judicial temperament and a humility in his approach to the law that uniquely qualifies him for the Supreme Court. He draws praise from the Judges that he sits with whether they were appointed by Republican Presidents or Democratic Presidents. The other judges on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals are pretty much unanimous in saying wonderful things about their colleague Sam Alito who has been nominated to the Supreme Court. When the judges write back and forth in opinions, including dissents, they’re never bitter, never angry, never caustic when Judge Alito is involved. They are very respectful. You will see opinion after opinion where other judges say “I respect tremendously what Judge Alito has written and I disagree on these grounds”. He fosters that atmosphere of judicial collegiality that I think sometimes is missing from the Supreme Court right now. That’s another reason why he’ll be an outstanding Associate Justice.

To be continued...