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Justice Alito's orientation begins

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After a private welcome to his new job, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was confronted in his first hours of work yesterday with emergency appeals in three death-row cases.

He bowed out as his colleagues blocked executions in Florida and Missouri, while allowing Texas to put an inmate to death.

It was a sign of what's to come for Alito, confirmed yesterday by the Senate on a 58-42 vote.

In his first month on the bench, the Court's new junior justice will find himself in the thick of fights over the environment, evidence rules for accused killers, Texas politics and the fortune of Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith's late husband.

Alito's orientation will be more difficult because the Court is in the middle of a nine-month term and already has heard arguments in dozens of cases. If justices are deadlocked in some of those cases, Alito may have to break the tie.

Justices meet behind closed doors Feb. 17 and an announcement could follow on cases that require new argument sessions with Alito. As the junior Court member, Alito must keep notes during those meetings and serve as the doorkeeper.

Even though Alito replaces O'Connor, his junior status means that he won't necessarily get an office with views. He gets the last pick of office suites.

In the courtroom, he will take the seat at the far right, the one for the court's newest member. He will sit next to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a one-time women's' right attorney who was President Clinton's first Supreme Court nominee.

Justices, during oral arguments, often share jokes or have side conversations. Alito and Ginsburg have a few things in common. Both have two children - a daughter and son. Both are from the East Coast: Ginsburg from New York, Alito from New Jersey.

Three seats down will be Justice Antonin Scalia, the court's other New Jersey native and Italian American with whom Alito is often compared. O'Connor's retirement gives Scalia a better seat, right next to Chief Justice John Roberts.

To help with case prep work, Alito can bring his law clerks from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and also ask some of O'Connor's clerks to stay.

Justices usually hire four law clerks, who review appeals and then briefly summarize them in memos for the bosses. They also usually help write drafts of rulings. Those jobs, held by the sharpest young lawyers in the country, can be grueling, with long hours often running late into the evening.

Justice Stephen Breyer has been the junior justice since 1994, a modern era record.

Last fall, Breyer told the Associated Press that in the first days at the high court, "it's a little frightening ... it takes a while to become comfortable."

The Court also has a new chief justice in Roberts, but as the court's leader he did not have the "junior" status.

Roberts administered the oath of office to Alito in a closed-door ceremony yesterday. O'Connor and Breyer were there, along with other justices and spouses.

A ceremonial swearing-in took place this afternoon in the East Room of the White House.

On a more practical level, there are other concerns for the 55-year-old Alito: getting a new office and staff, having his picture made, finding his parking space, even learning about the court cafeteria and gym.

His permanent office assignment may be delayed by a major renovation under way at the Supreme Court building. The chambers used by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, with beautiful views of the Capitol, have been shuttered for months. O'Connor has been in a temporary office.

Alito confirmed, sworn in as justice
Highly partisan 58-42 vote caps fierce battle over Court's future. 01.31.06


Online symposium: Samuel Alito & the First Amendment

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