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Judge Samuel Alito Takes Seat as Supreme Court Justice

February 1, 2006

On January 31, 2006, the U.S. Senate voted 58-42 to confirm Judge Samuel Alito as associate justice of the Supreme Court, to replace retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Chief Justice John Roberts swore him in later the same day.

While still serving on the Third Circuit, Judge Alito was the lone dissenter when that court considered Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1991. He voted to uphold a provision in the Pennsylvania law that required married women to notify their husbands prior to obtaining an abortion. The Supreme Court later ruled the spousal notification provision unconstitutional, holding that a state cannot give a man control over his wife. "Women do not lose their constitutionally protected liberty when they marry," wrote Justice O’Connor in the majority opinion.

In a 1985 application for a job in the office of Regan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese, Alito wrote, "I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed, and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." During his confirmation hearings, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed him on what is clearly an expression of his legal view—not a personal opinion—about the validity of Roe v. Wade. Alito acknowledged that back then, he favored overturning Roe, but he would not comment on whether his view has changed. In 1985, as a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, Alito wrote a memo regarding the administration’s involvement in the upcoming Supreme Court case of Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "What can be made of this opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime, of mitigating its effects?"

As early as the fall term, the Supreme Court could hear its next major abortion-related case—involving the constitutionality of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act—and Alito, as well as newly minted Chief Justice John Roberts, will have a chance to put his own stamp on the future of abortion rights in the United States.

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