Supreme Court Justice visits UK, interviews himself

By Will Wright

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The questions from UK law students were too polite for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, so he asked the “nasty” questions himself.

Why are there no video recordings of Supreme Court hearings? Why does the Supreme Court take the summer off? Or, as Alito put it, “Why don’t you stay in Washington and do what you’re paid to do?”

The George W. Bush appointee on Thursday joined other Supreme Court justices including Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan by visiting campus as the College of Law’s Roy R. and Virginia F. Ray Distinguished Lecturer.

Alito took some pre-written questions from students, but also answered his own questions about the Supreme Court’s workload, and how the justices get along when they aren’t in the courtroom.

“We have a rule that you may not not discuss any cases during lunch,” Alito said. “We are really not at each others’ throats.”

And if the justices aren’t getting along, their summer break can help ease the tension.

“We tend to be kind of angry with each other (by) the end of June,” said Alito, who visited campus with his wife Martha-Ann Bomgardner, a UK graduate.

Alito’s UK visit will be his last before heading back to Washington D.C. Alito and the other eight justices will review about 80 cases in the upcoming term, he said.

But the questions Alito asked himself during his lecture in the Gatton College of Business and Economics’ new Kincaid Auditorium were more about court procedure than the interpretation of law.

For example, why won’t the Supreme Court release video tapes of their hearings?

Alito said video of the arguments would just be cut into soundbites, out of context and without enough background information.

If people really want to know what happens in the courtroom, the Supreme Court releases audio recordings of their arguments, he said.

But the real work comes in written arguments, which Alito likes to do while wearing pajamas and drinking coffee, he said.

“I may stay there doing that until noon,” Alito said.

And for people who see the lack of video tapes as a lack of transparency, Alito said he has a compromise.

The middle ground could lie in a clip from HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he said.

The clip shows nine dogs dressed up like Supreme Court justices sitting on a judicial bench while an audio recording of a court hearing plays over the video. On the show, Oliver said the dog video would make the public more interested in Supreme Court rulings.

Alito said the media often misrepresents the court, the justices and why they argue for certain rulings, but he also said some reporters, mainly those who are assigned full-time to the court, are very knowledgeable, even if they can be as offensive as they are amusing, Alito said.

“They’re a whole bunch of snarky columnists,” he said.

Alito taught two law classes Thursday and will teach another one tomorrow, but it is not open to the public.