Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. has turned his desk at the Court into a mini-shrine to the Philadelphia Phillies.
There’s a Phillies towel, the front page of the Oct. 30 Philadelphia Inquirer with a headline proclaiming “CHAMPS!” and a baseball hat marking the team’s playoff win. The World Series hat, he says, “is on the way.”
Alito, a Phillies fan since he was 4 or 5 years old, granted a rare in-chambers interview Friday to convey his enthusiasm about the World Series victory after a 28-year drought. “Like millions of other fans, I feel like we did it,” Alito said.
And, like millions of other fans, Alito also thought the final rain-soaked game should have been called earlier than the middle of the sixth inning on Oct. 27. “It was very frustrating,” Alito said. “The weather was terrible, and they shouldn’t have had to play the last half-inning.”
Alito continued, “I know it’s gratuitous advice, but they need to have a rule on that before the game.” But he added with a smile, “It worked out OK.” The rest of the tied game was played Oct. 29 and the Phillies won 4-3.
Though he attended two Phillies playoff games with the Dodgers, Alito was unable to go to any Series games. At the playoffs, Alito said, “the atmosphere in the stadium was phenomenal. Every seat was occupied. And the towels; everyone was waving the towels.” He watched the Series games on television, but was “living and dying with every pitch.” Does he yell at the television? “There’s a lot of emotion, but I’m very quiet.”
Asked about pitcher Brad Lidge, who rescued games for the Phillies during the season and in post-season games, too, Alito said, “He had an amazing season.He was a big factor. They wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without him.” After Lidge’s mixed history with the Houston Astros, this season with the Phillies represented “redemption for him.” But Alito hastens to add, “It was a team effort. I could go down the roster and say something about every one of them.”
The team, in Alito’s view, has the strength and depth to keep playing World Series baseball next season and beyond. “They have a good crop of young players,” Alito said. “Things have got to break their way, but they will be very competitive and have a chance to do it again.”
Moving to Supreme Court-related subjects, Alito was asked about his decision last summer to jump out of the “cert pool,” the pooling arrangement whereby law clerks summarize incoming certiorari petitions not just for their own justice but for all the other justices in the pool. Critics say it gives individual law clerks too much power over the Court’s docket.
“I just wanted to see what it would be like,” said Alito, dismissing the theories that were advanced to explain his move. “I wanted to simulate it in my own chambers, but it never worked. So I decided to give it a try.” How has it gone so far? “I’m very pleased,” he said.
On a somber note, Alito mourned the death Oct. 28 of Kenneth Ciongoli, chairman of the National Italian American Foundation. Ciongoli was a staunch ally of Alito’s during his confirmation battle three years ago, criticizing as an ethnic slur the nickname “Scalito” that some had given Alito to link him to fellow Italian-American Antonin Scalia. Ciongoli’s son Adam served as a law clerk for Alito.
“Ken’s death is a big loss personally and to the country. He did a lot for the country and for NIAF,” said Alito, who will be attending a memorial service for Ciongoli over the weekend.