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Supreme Court Justice Alito Visits Mason Law

By Arushi Sharma, George Mason School of Law, J.D. Candidate, 2011

On February 11, 2009, Associate Professor of Law Michael E. O'Neill's criminal law class got a real "taste of justice," when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. addressed a gathering of a hundred or so Mason law students.

Justice Alito was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2006 upon the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Before joining the Supreme Court, Justice Alito was a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and also taught for five years as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University School of Law. Justice Alito is known for his conservative viewpoint on the Supreme Court.

Students were excited to hear the Justice speak and brought questions to the event on a variety of topics relating to his experience on the Supreme Court. Students sought his advice and opinions and elicited conversation on issues that affect the legal system.

The Justice began his talk by discussing the Supreme Court routine throughout the year. He explained that a substantial amount of time each year is spent going through thousands of petitions for writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court hears less than one percent of the cases that are petitioned to the court. Justice Alito also explained that the court has twenty-six conferences during the year during which Justices meet and vote on cases that they thought should be heard by the court. Students asked Justice Alito what specific things the Court looked for in selecting cases to hear. The Justice responded that the Court mainly looked for conflicts between the Circuits, conflicts between state law and decisions of the Supreme Court, or cases that had crucial issues that the Court felt needed immediate attention. Justice Alito went on to describe duties of the law clerks, the routine that ensued once Justices were assigned to write an opinion for a pending case, and the procedure that led up to the hearing of oral arguments.

Students were also curious about Justice Alito's experience "on the job." The Justice noted that his position is challenging because the issues are hard and there are always good arguments to be heard and considered on either side. For example, the Justice pointed out that the amicus briefs filed during the Heller case were superior, commending those submitted by Mason Law faculty members.

Justice Alito told students that to make effective oral arguments to the Supreme Court, attorneys should present the same arguments in their briefs in a refined, appealing, and persuasive manner. He noted what the 1L audience already knew from reading landmark decisions in their casebooks, that many of the Court's decisions compelled a slim majority.

As final words of advice to students, Justice Alito listed the three big things that appellate lawyers do—analyze issues, write briefs, and make presentations of that information. He vividly expressed his philosophy of American jurisprudence and encouraged Mason Law students to help the legal system produce just and legally sound results.