Thursday, June 8, 2023

Justice Samuel Alito’s Approach to Stare Decisis

By Claire D. Hewitt
Claire Hewitt just finished her second year at Albany Law School. But she’ll be graduating early, in December 2023.
Before attending law school, Claire earned her bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oswego, where she majored in criminal justice and was on the women’s softball team. 
At the law school, Claire has been an Associate Board Member of the Moot Court Program, Treasurer of Phi Alpha Delta, Teaching Assistant for Professor Wetmore’s Criminal Law course, and Certified Legal Intern for the Albany County DA’s Office in the Major Crimes Bureau. This summer, she is working at the New York County DA’s Office as a Summer Law Fellow. 
Claire has previously interned for the New York State Office of the Attorney General in the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. Before law school, she worked as a full-time legal assistant for a solo practitioner in Syracuse, New York, working on civil matters and appeals.

In his Senate confirmation hearing, Justice Samuel Alito testified that stare decisis is a fundamental part of the American legal system and ensured that he would respect the judgments and wisdom which are embedded in prior judicial decisions. However, actions speak louder than words. If Justice Alito truly believed that the judicial doctrine of stare decisis is a fundamental part of the American legal system, why is it that he will agree to overturn court-set precedent when it aligns with his personal views?

While stare decisis is an important doctrine that has helped regulate the judiciary for hundreds of years, its inconsistent implementation by Supreme Court justices like Justice Alito directly contradicts its purpose. Justice Alito appears to give great deference to stare decisis, as demonstrated in many of his judicial opinions, which reveal his reliance on precedent and historical practice as a method of reasoning and his disfavor of precedent-altering decisions. Yet, many of his opinions also reveal a willingness to depart from precedent as he chooses.

Despite his claim that judges are neither legislators nor rule makers, an observation of Justice Alito’s jurisprudence demonstrates that stare decisis is merely a political tool of convenience. Justice Alito is guilty of using this tool inconsistently, specifically to further his own religious views and political positions.  

This paper proceeds in three parts. Part I lays out a background explanation of the legal doctrine of stare decisis and its basic history and place in the Supreme Court. Part II focuses on Justice Alito’s stance on this doctrine by discussing many of his opinions, which cumulatively demonstrate three distinct observations of his jurisprudence. Part III discusses the resulting conflict that arises from the inconsistent implementation of stare decisis and its impact on the current Supreme Court and today’s society. Part IV ties together ideas and draws conclusions.
To read the paper, open HERE.