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Alito, Sotomayor give voice to court split

Publication Date: 
June 19, 2011
Washington Post
Robert Barnes

Professor Jeffrey Fisher spoke with Robert Barnes of the Washington Post on how Supreme Court Justices Alito and Sotomayor have different perspectives on criminal cases due to their own law backgrounds.

The Supreme Court’s two former prosecutors sit on opposite ends of the court’s long mahogany bench, and they take very different views of the criminal justice system.

Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Sonia Sotomayor have emerged in their relatively short time on the bench as two of the court’s most outspoken members on criminal justice issues. Sometimes they speak in unison, but when they disagree they often represent the court’s ideological divide.

Alito, a former career lawyer at the Justice Department and New Jersey’s U.S. attorney from 1987 to 1990, is wary of petitions from the convicted complaining of defects and worried about lawyers exploiting loopholes to try to free the guilty. “Public safety” is his bottom line and a phrase often repeated in his writing.


Jeffrey Fisher, a Stanford University law professor who frequently argues criminal cases before the Supreme Court, said it is clear that Sotomayor and Alito are the two justices who have had the closest contact with the criminal justice system. But he speculates that those experiences have provided different perspectives.