The U.S. Supreme Court should never concern itself with popularity and must remain above the fray when there is strong public reaction to its rulings, Justice Samuel Alito said Monday in a luncheon speech.
"It's fine if we are not all that popular," Alito told an audience of more than 1,100 lawyers and business people. "There is a reason why the Constitution gives federal judges life tenure. We are supposed to do our jobs without worrying whether our decisions are pleasing to anybody."
Alito spoke to a joint meeting of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches and the Palm Beach County Bar Association, drawing the largest audience ever for such an event, organizers said. His staff did not permit the speech to be videotaped or audio recorded, and Alito noted that the justices remain somewhat behind the times in terms of using such common technologies as email. The court also does not permit oral arguments to be televised, although some are released later on audiotape.
"We are an old-fashioned institution, and in my opinion that is a good thing. We are not exactly on the cutting edge of technology," Alito said.
Alito, nominated by President George W. Bush, took his seat on the Supreme Court in early 2006. He steered clear of commenting on controversial issues or pending cases Monday, mentioning at one point that a just-argued case involving a president's power to make appointments during congressional recesses presented "a number of fascinating issues."
"We are considering that right now and by the end of the term we'll have a decision," he said.
Alito is generally considered part of the nine-member court's conservative wing, but he cautioned his audience Monday to beware of labels. Alito said he generally votes with fellow conservative Justice Antonin Scalia about 56 percent of the time and with liberals such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on 55 percent of cases.
"The cases differ and labels can be misleading," Alito said.
Before he was confirmed by the Senate, Alito was known to opponents as "Scalito" because of a perceived ideological alliance with his soon-to-be fellow justice. Even Alito had a slip of the tongue Monday in talking about it.
"I have great admiration for Justice Scalito — Justice Scalia — easy to make a mistake — but we don't always agree," he said.
Before the speech, an audience member gave Alito a small figurine of himself, leading Alito to joke that he was going to look for similar figurines for the rest of his colleagues. Then, he said, he's going to take them into the Supreme Court conference room after hours.
"I'm going to put them all around the conference table and I'm going to live my fantasy," he deadpanned.
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