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Constitution Day Forum featuring Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

by Pepperdine University School of Law

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It was a day of national remembrance, recollection, and looking forward. September 11, 2006, at Pepperdine University would not have been just another day even without the visit of the United States Supreme Court's newest justice. But visit he did-to honor those lost fi ve years ago-and to share his thoughts on the Constitution and issues facing the Supreme Court. While here, Justice Samuel A. Alito also took the opportunity to banter with his old friend and colleague, Professor Douglas Kmiec, holder of Pepperdine's Caruso Family Chair and professor of constitutional law. This was Justice Alito's second visit to Pepperdine School of Law-the first since his confirmation to the nation's highest court. Visiting at Professor Kmiec's invitation, Justice Alito started the day in the professor's constitutional law class, leading discussion on two Supreme Court cases dealing with the balance of power under the Constitution.  Then, with an earnest nod to the national importance of the day, he joined the somber crowd gathered at Pepperdine's most profound vista, Heroes Garden, to remember those lost and to acknowledge the heroism of alumnus Tom Burnett and others on Flight 93, whose courage ensured that many others would not be lost to tragedy that day. To the delight of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 450 squeezed into the law school's Caruso Auditorium, Justice Alito passed along, in a Constitution Day forum, words of wisdom and his impressions of life on the Supreme Court. The justice fielded numerous questions from an interested student body. The event began, however, on a lighter note. Professor Kmiec and his daughter, Katie, a third-year law student at Pepperdine, entertained participants-and the justice-with a recounting of the families' close connection years back, when Alito was pleased to read Katie's favorite: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  The father-daughter duo read a page from the story's "revised" version written by Professor Kmiec-a play on words summarizing Justice "Sam I Am" Alito's recent Senate confirmation process. The entertaining introduction proved to be both a natural jumping-o? point for nearly 40 minutes of questions directed at the justice, and proof that he was indeed "happy to come to Pepperdine to visit old friends," as he addressed the group. "It's a place that honors tradition," explained Alito about the court. He described the Marshall Chair, originally used by Chief Justice John Marshall, in which every new justice sits for a few moments before being sworn in, and the Harlan Bible, which all new justices sign in a tradition dating from when the first Justice John Marshall Harlan gave it to the court. "I saw the signatures of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Felix Frankfurter. I just sat there with a ball point pen ready to sign the Bible and it just didn't seem right," Alito remembered.  But as he answered questions on the legal doctrine of stare decisis, media interpretation of Supreme Court proceedings, and the founders' possible shortsightedness in allowing the Supreme Court such constitutional freedom, the "rightness" of his place among those Supreme Court greats seemed obvious and his humility true to all of those in attendance. "As the justice began speaking, one could tell that he is not a man of self-importance but humility," commented second-year student Mary Skouras, a student in Kmiec's class. "Justice Alito did not teach us or ask us questions as though he knew every answer, but seemed to be aware that even he, an expert and interpreter of the Constitution, is also continually learning about the Constitution."

Constitution Day Forum featuring Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito
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  • Free
  • Category: Law
  • Language: English

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