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Alito Stands Alone On Supreme Court's First Amendment cases

Publication Date: 
March 03, 2011
The Washington Post
Robert Barnes

Lecturer Thomas C. Goldstein commented on the division among Supreme Court justices over the issue of free speech. The Washington Post's Robert Barnes filed the following story:

Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s muscular dissent in the free speech case involving Westboro Baptist Church marked the second time in a year that he has stood apart from the rest of his colleagues in a First Amendment case.

His dissent Wednesday showed a justice some consider more willing than ever to strike out on his own, and points out the differences between Alito and President George W. Bush's other Supreme Court nominee, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.


"Between this case and [Stevens], free speech is the area in which the split in their views is most stark," said Thomas C. Goldstein, a Supreme Court practitioner who runs "But I would expect to see more examples like this in the future."

He said he thinks Alito is on a "trajectory similar" to that of Justice Clarence Thomas.

"As he is on the court longer, he is developing independent views on a lot of issues," Goldstein said. "And he does not hesitate to stand alone on principle."


Goldstein and others disagree.

"I think the criticisms of Alito as being inconsistent in light of the campaign finance cases are wrong," he said. "In his view, the First Amendment has a core value relating to political speech. In his view, extending it to protect videos of animal cruelty and exploitation of a military funeral goes too far. The rest of the court obviously disagrees, but his position seems completely coherent."