Supreme Court

Samuel Alito, Burkean Conservative?


At The Weekly Standard, Adam J. White has a fascinating profile of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. According to White, Alito should be considered the "last heir" to Yale University legal scholar Alexander Bickel, "a Burkean conservative whose work was largely overshadowed by the emergence of modern 'Originalist' jurisprudence." Here's how White sums up Bickel's legal approach:

Born of Jewish-Romanian immigrants, Bickel graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Law School, clerked for Justice Felix Frankfurter, and joined the Yale faculty in 1956. But he rose to prominence with the publication of his second book, The Least Dangerous Branch. In that volume, which drew its name from Alexander Hamilton's Federalist 78, Bickel reassessed the Court's constitutional role in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education's then-controversial school desegregation order. Because the Court is a counter-majoritarian force in American politics, he argued, the Court must exercise "the passive virtues," deciding constitutional issues only when truly necessary. Instead of jumping headlong into heated political disputes, the Court's justices, who (ideally) have "the leisure, the training, and the insulation to follow the ways of the scholar in pursuing the ends of government," should take care to act as "the pronouncer and guardian" of the nation's "enduring values."

White describes Bickel's views as "utterly distinct from the Originalist theories that Robert Bork" and others made popular among legal conservatives. I'm not so sure about that. Like Bickel, Bork also consistently emphasized judicial restraint and letting the majority rule. So while there are important shades of difference between the two, calling their ideas "utterly distinct" goes too far.

But regardless, this is a very interesting profile of one of the Court's key conservative members. Read it for yourself here.

NEXT: C-SPAN's Brian Lamb Interviews Nick Gillespie

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. When Bork expressed his disagreement with Bickel’s philosophy, some of Bickel’s friends accused Bork of betraying Bickel’s memory. In *The Tempting of America,* Bork elaborates on his reasons for disagreeing with Bickel. To paraphrase Bork’s critique: Bickel wants judges to be philosopher-kings, albeit kings who intervene only rarely, when the plebs have *really* gotten out of line. Still and all, a philosopher-king isn’t a concept you find in a supporter of limited government.

    1. I would normally be discomfited finding myself in agreement with Bork – but my reaction to the summary of Bickel was “what a Platonic asshole”.

      1. I believe I’ve summed Bickel up more or less correctly, although the discussion of philosopher-kings reflects my own interpretation. But pronouncing, and being the guardian of, a country’s “enduring values” seems philosopher-king-y to me.

  2. Burkean is defined as silencing, murdering, but leaving no violent marks.…..-snatcher/

  3. Why is the “er” in Alexander Hamilton italicized?

    1. Because its in its infinitive Spanish version. That way you can feel free to conjugate his name as you wish.

      1. So…


    2. Does it conjugate in America as “Travis”?, because I thought that ‘hesitant pronouncer and guardian‘ shtick sounded familiar…

      1. Ah fuck just saw hamilton not bickle. Ghey. My jokefail

  4. And posters here keep telling me this is a libertarian site and not a conservative aborto-freak anti-liberty site.

    Burke is for theocrats – like Buckley was. That is why Ayn Rand hated them.

    We know, and what is better we feel inwardly, that religion is the basis of civil society, and the source of all good and of all comfort. Burke – 1790

    To be a true proponent of liberty one must shuck the God Delusion.

    1. “And posters here keep telling me this is a libertarian site and not a conservative aborto-freak anti-liberty site.”
      And you expect to be taken seriously?

      1. This site promotes that anti-liberty fuckwad Andrew Napolalitano (sp?) who calls for the death penalty for Roe v. Wade practitioners.

        yeah – he is good on the 4th Amendment – but not good enough elsewhere.

        1. You are good tool, shrike. I kill you last.

          1. Holy shit Shrike; you know what always happens to the last man on earth?

            1. They still don’t get the girl?

              1. They get to be the girl

    2. Where in this post do you see any praise or approval of Burke? I see a quote from an article, a link, and a few sentences of analysis.

      As for Andrew Napolalitano – reason contributors often appear on his show, yes. They also appear on Russia Today, and Parker and Spitzer. They’re not promoting the venue; they’re promoting themselves. They’ve also interviewed Mickey Kaus – an ardent opponent of immigration. Just because it appears on the pages here, doesn’t mean it is now encoded in the libertarian bible.

      As far as I can see, your post is mainly about starting a debate regarding religion, morality, and the state, with E. Burke as the starting point. Interesting, but not very relevant to the topic of Root’s post.

      1. libertarian bible? My copy says whatever I want to read

  5. “This site promotes that anti-liberty fuckwad Andrew Napolalitano (sp?) who calls for the death penalty for Roe v. Wade practitioners.”
    And you expect to be taken seriously?
    Go away.

    1. There is a multi-page interview with AN on this site where he calls for the death penalty for abortion participants.

      Read it or shut the fuck up.

      1. “Read it or shut the fuck up.”

        So there’s an article explaining a view? And that pushes your adolescent buttons? And you expect to be taken seriously?
        Fuck you.

      2. Crawl down the fuckhole you came from, eat shit, and die

      3. Won’t. Ever. Happen. shrike.

        1. “Fuck you.”

          “No, fuck you!”

          1. females:

            “Fuck you cunt.”

            “No, fuck you!”


      Here is the article – he says First Degree Murder but backs off the death penalty and says life in prison.

      (correcting myself)

      But life in prison for a legal procedure is absurd.

  6. Bork…he’s that guy the Swedish Chef is always talking about, right? Did you know that the Swedish Chef got JSD in constitutional law from Columbia before becoming a chef?

    1. That’s ridiculous. I hate a love-hate relationship with your comments. That’s a fucking win. Beershky beershky beer. Beershky beershky beer. Beershky beershky beer beershky beer. BORK BORK BORK!


    I love the first comment.

    1. A gun doesn’t make much of an equalizer unless you hold it outside an arm’s length from your adversary.

    2. Fucking. Hate. This. She violated 2 of the 4 rules for safe handling. She deserves a good ass kicking.

  8. Alito: words can hurt people!

    The Phelpses are less dangerous with their liberty. They don’t have a legitimate grievance that way.

    1. You’re being unusually kind to the Phelps crew…

      1. Yargh! Blugrh! Gays!!! Dead soldiers deserved death! blblblblblbl…

  9. “Alito: words can hurt people!”
    I’m having a hard time agreeing with you, just ’cause.
    So what was you opinion on Citizens United?

    1. Haaaated it!

  10. I thought the analysis in this article was spot on. Alito and Roberts don’t come from the same spot as Scalia or Thomas. Burkean philosophy is a good explanation of why there is a conservative split on the court.

    1. And a ‘split’ between Burkian conservatives and libertarians.

  11. …quick! Choose between:

    Andrew Napolitano


    Janet Napolitano

    to run your life, my life, your mom’s life, and everyone else who isn’t Connected.

    Choose now!

    1. I know who he pick!

    2. Is Janet considered a “christfag” or does she get a pass?

      1. She’s Team Blue, and she’s Big Sis, so shrike already has a spoo-covered pic of her next to his bunk bed.

        1. Not unlike the one of Matt Drudge next to yours.

          1. I don’t sully my computer by visiting Drudge’s supposed website, Tony.

            Then again, I stay off of DemocraticUnderground, as well.

            1. It’s a good question for you, though I didn’t post it, Tony:

              Which Napolitano would you prefer to run your life for you?

  12. Samuel Alito, Douchean Douchervative?

  13. cheap wedding gowns for sale

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.