Justice Samuel Alito: A 21st-Century Profile In Courage

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—which overturned the Court’s pro-abortion decision in Roe v. Wade (1973)—Christians in New York and across the United States have many reasons for thanksgiving. The demise of Roe has allowed many states to restrict or ban the practice of abortion.

The majority opinion in Dobbs was authored by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Before the release of Dobbs, Justice Alito was not a household name. If you are curious to know more about the man behind the Dobbs decision, you have come to the right place.

Like the late great Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Alito was born in Trenton, New Jersey to parents of Italian descent. Alito’s academic excellence was evident early in his life; he was the valedictorian of his high school class and graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University. Alito went on to graduate from Yale Law School in 1975. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve, from which he was honorably discharged in 1980. Alito and his wife, Martha Ann, have two children.

Justice Alito’s early legal career focused on law enforcement and included a stint working for the Reagan administration. He eventually rose to the position of U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and he argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush nominated Alito for a judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. After receiving unanimous Senate confirmation, Alito served on the Court of Appeals for over 15 years. During his Court of Appeals tenure, Alito authored a dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, an abortion-related case that reached the Supreme Court. Then-Judge Alito took the view that the Constitution allowed for various abortion restrictions; his opinion in that case foreshadowed the majority opinion he would write 31 years later in Dobbs.

In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated his personal attorney, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court of the United States. Christian groups opposed the Miers nomination, taking the position that Miers was both unqualified for the job and insufficiently conservative. Eventually, the Miers nomination was withdrawn, and President Bush instead nominated Alito to the Supreme Court. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 31, 2006 by a 58-42 vote.

Since joining the Supreme Court, Justice Alito has been a reliable conservative voice. In 2014, he penned the majority opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., in which the Court held that a privately-held corporation was exempt from the Obamacare contraception mandate because of its religious opposition to that mandate. Justice Alito has authored dissenting opinions in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), in which he argued against the notion of a constitutional “right” to same-sex “marriage,” and in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (2020), in which he argued that a federal ban on sex discrimination does not ban discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. The justice has also been outspoken in his defense of religious liberty and free speech. In a 2015 speech, Justice Alito spoke out in favor of tolerance for opposing viewpoints and against efforts to “bully” the Supreme Court. In 2020, Justice Alito said, “‘For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry, and it can’t be tolerated.’” He added, “‘It would be easy to put together a list called “things you can’t say if you are a student or a professor at a college or university or an employee of many big corporations.” And there wouldn’t be just seven items on that list. Seventy times seven would be closer to the mark . . . You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Until very recently that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.’”

In May 2022, a draft of a majority opinion in the Dobbs case was leaked to the media. As of this writing, the identity of the leaker remains unknown. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the intent behind the leak was to pressure the Court to change course and uphold Roe v. Wade as constitutional. Despite ongoing left-wing harassment—including illegal protests outside the justices’ homes and an intended attempt on the life of one justice—that attempt utterly failed. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, stood firm in ruling that Roe must be overturned. Justice Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs reads as follows: “We hold that Roe . . . must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision… Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, [Roe] enflamed debate and deepened division . . . It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The courage and wisdom of Justice Samuel Alito and his colleagues in the Dobbs majority will result in countless lives being saved. May God bless them richly.