Three weeks before the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito LAW ’75 officially begin, a collective of Yale Law School faculty and students has concluded that the federal judge tends to rule in favor of institutional powers and limits on civil rights.
The Alito Project, comprised of 22 members of the Law School community, released a report Monday analyzing the 415 judicial opinions written by Alito during his 15 years on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Although the report included no specific recommendations concerning Alito’s confirmation, it concluded that the nominee’s decisions have consistently favored limits on congressional power, procedural fairness, and the rights of litigants who are not religious minorities or wealthy.
“Judge Alito shows substantial deference to institutional actors and government entities across a broad range of issues,” project member Brian Deese LAW ’08 said. “I think that’s something that comes through.”
But Yale Federalist Society president Joshua Hawley LAW ’06 said the report is not an unbiased assessment of Alito’s opinions. Hawley said the report’s section on reproductive rights does not consider two cases in which Alito struck down restrictions on abortion based on Supreme Court precedent.
“I would say that it is highly partisan and an unfair representation of Judge Alito’s views,” Hawley said. “It should be understood that this is a leftist perspective that is openly critical of Judge Alito’s views.”
The Alito Project report said Alito has consistently ruled against plaintiffs claiming discrimination and has argued to limit the scope of laws protecting workers’ and reproductive rights, but has decided in favor of religious minorities in several cases.
Project member Jason Pielemeier LAW ’07 said Alito has tended to grant more procedural flexibility to the federal government or other institutional defendants.
“The standards that he applies are not particularly consistent,” Pielemeier said.
Still, Pielemeier said the report’s lack of advocacy for or against Alito’s confirmation marks an attempt to maximize use of the group’s research without appearing partisan.
“We hope that our attempts to digest this will give other people another tool to use in making their own decision,” he said. “There was a lot of concern that the wording be very neutral, that we not jump to any conclusions or say anything that was inflammatory or exaggerated.”
Both Deese and Pielemeier said their project research shaped their personal views, leaving them concerned about the prospect of Alito’s confirmation.
“I don’t think that he shares a vision about the direction of American law that the majority of Americans and that I share,” Deese said.
But Hawley said Alito’s judicial conservatism is “well within the mainstream.”
“You see him very dispassionately applying the law as written and being faithful to Supreme Court precedent as he finds it,” Hawley said. “What you see there is just good judging.”
To analyze each of Alito’s judicial decisions, Law School professor Owen Fiss directed a small group of students who initially divided the opinions into categories. The decisions were then read and summarized under the direction of other professors with expertise in the legal areas involved.
Senate confirmation hearings for Alito are scheduled to begin Jan. 9.