On Thursday night, Justice Sam Alito delivered the keynote address at this year’s all-virtual Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention. The Federalist Society, a well-funded network of conservative attorneys, has come under unusual scrutiny after Donald Trump elevated scores of its members to the federal judiciary. Its leaders insist that it is a mere debate club, a nonpartisan forum for the exchange of legal ideas.
But Alito abandoned any pretense of impartiality in his speech, a grievance-laden tirade against Democrats, the progressive movement, and the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alito’s targets included COVID-related restrictions, same-sex marriage, abortion, Plan B, the contraceptive mandate, LGBTQ non-discrimination laws, and five sitting Democratic senators.
The justice, who has sat on the court since 2005, criticized governors for putting lockdowns in place to help tackle COVID.
While he acknowledged that the virus had left “thousands dead, many more hospitalized”, Alito called the measures “previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.”
“We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged,” he said, adding they were a “constitutional stress test” that didn’t bode well for the future.
Alito, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush in 2006, referred to restrictions on gatherings that had affected religious events.
“Think of worship services! Churches closed on Easter Sunday, synagogues closed for Passover in Yom Kippur”, he said.
“It pains me to say this,” Alito added, “but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”
“This speech is like I woke up from a vampire dream,” University of Baltimore law professor and former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle wrote. “Unscrupulously biased, political, and even angry. I can’t imagine why Alito did this publicly. Totally inappropriate and damaging to the Supreme Court.”
Alito also engaged in another regular lament from legal conservatives, complaining that law schools are hostile to those with right-of-center political views and others whose beliefs go against the majority viewpoint.
“Unfortunately, tolerance for opposing views is now in short supply in many law schools and in the broader academic community,” the justice said. “When I speak with recent law school graduates, what I hear over and over is that they face harassment and retaliation if they say anything that departs from the law school orthodoxy.”