That’s what Sam Alito’s boss used to call him. And he was right!
In mid-November of 2012, hundreds of tuxedo-clad Republican lawyers gathered at a hotel ballroom in Washington, DC. They were a mix of heads hung in dejection and chests puffed out in compensatory bluster. Less than two weeks earlier, they’d seen President Obama vanquish his opponent at the polls. Their last chance to knock a hated president out of office — and their last real chance to halt that’s president’s even more hated health reforms — ended in failure. They and their allies had made their best case that liberalism was a path to economic ruin, and the American people had lined up at their polling places to pull the lever for liberalism.
And yet, at this annual gathering of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, arguably the most powerful legal organization in the country, Justice Samuel Alito was defiant. Not long after rising to give his keynote address to the room full of conservative senators, judges, and attorneys gathered before him, Alito launched into a story of a particularly uninspiring law professor whose course he took in law school. The professor, Alito recalled, authored a book in 1970 warning of a decaying society trapped in a “moment of utmost sterility, darkest night, most extreme peril.”
At this point in his speech, Alito paused, and looked over the roomful of lawyers still licking their wounds from Mitt Romney’s very recent defeat. “Our current situation,” he told them, “is nothing new.”
Justice Alito’s speech came during a brief moment of respite between two great constitutional battles. Just a few months earlier, the Court had rejected a request that it repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, based on a tenuous reading of the Tenth Amendment that one prominent conservative judge dismissed as having no basis “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.” Justice Alito dissented in the Court’s health care decision. He wanted Obamacare gone.
Almost exactly one month after his speech, a gunman named Adam Lanza walked into an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and murdered 26 people, 20 of whom were children. What followed was a nationwide debate over the proper way to solve gun violence and over the scope and the wisdom of the Second Amendment. Many of the lawyers and lawmakers who attended Justice Alito’s speech would fight hard — and, ultimately, successfully — to defeat President Obama’s proposals to prevent future Sandy Hooks.