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Justice Samuel Alito
Justice Samuel Alito sits during a group photo at the Supreme Court on April 23, 2021.Erin Schaff / Pool/The New York Times via AP file

Why Justice Samuel Alito’s latest political speech rankles

The problem is not just that Samuel Alito delivered a political speech. The problem is also that he keeps delivering political speeches.


After Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it wasn’t just Americans who were outraged. Several international allies — and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron — were quick to express their public disappointment with the ruling and their support for reproductive rights.

Earlier this month, the European Union’s parliament went so far as to formally condemn the end of constitutional protections for abortion in the United States.

As Politico reported, the reactions did not escape the attention of the man who wrote the ruling.

Justice Samuel Alito, the author of the Supreme Court’s earth-shaking decision last month overturning Roe v. Wade, is mocking foreign leaders who lamented his opinion doing away with a half-century of federal constitutional protection for abortion rights in the U.S. During a surprise appearance as a keynote speaker at a religious freedom conference in Rome last week, sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, Alito poked fun at the torrent of international criticism of his opinion for the five-justice court majority.

“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders, who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” Alito complained. “One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson — but he paid the price.”

The justice, sounding very much like a Republican trying to impress social conservatives, proceeded to whine that people aren’t sufficiently religious by his standards.

He lamented the “growing hostility to religion, or at least the traditional religious beliefs that are contrary to the new moral code that is ascendant in some sectors.”

Watching a video excerpt of Alito’s remarks, it was difficult not to notice that the conservative jurist seemed indifferent to appearances. There was no pretense. Alito apparently didn’t see the need to come across as a dispassionate and fair-minded justice.

Rather, his audience saw a politician giving a political speech, deriding other politicians who dared to disagree with him, and patting himself on the back for having succeeded on a political goal.

Complicating matters is the familiarity of these circumstances. As regular readers may recall, it was less than two years ago when Alito delivered surprisingly political remarks at a Federalist Society event, at which the conservative complained about public-safety restrictions during the pandemic, before directing his frustrations at marriage equality, reproductive rights, and five sitting U.S. senators, each of whom happened to be Democrats.

“This speech is like I woke up from a vampire dream,” University of Baltimore law professor and former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle wrote soon after. “Unscrupulously biased, political, and even angry. I can’t imagine why Alito did this publicly. Totally inappropriate and damaging to the Supreme Court.”

Last fall, the same justice did it again, delivering pointed — and at times, factually dubious — remarks at Notre Dame Law School, which included criticisms of American journalists.

It led Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, to respond, “Judges turning into political actors, giving speeches attacking journalists, is terrible for the court and terrible for democracy.”

Through his rulings, Alito has already undermined the high court’s credibility. Through his speeches, the justices does further damage to the public’s confidence in the institution.