Law school brings Alito to UK

By Nicole Schladt

While thousands of UK fans snatched up Big Blue Madness tickets Saturday morning, a smaller group of Bluegrass residents gathered across the street at the Singletary Center to celebrate citizenship with Martha-Ann Alito.

Alito, wife of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, spoke to an audience of nearly 200 Saturday about her experiences as a Kentucky native and as the spouse of a high-profile figure in Washington, D.C. The Hellenic Ideals Program of the Bluegrass and the UK College of Law hosted the lecture. Reed Polk, Hellenic Ideals Program board member, said it was the first collaboration of its kind between the Hellenic Ideals Program and the UK College of Law.

Within her lecture, titled “One Letter Home,” Martha-Ann Alito talked about her military upbringing, her time as a student at UK, and her family life after Justice Alito’s appointment.

Alito was born in Fort Knox, but her Air Force father relocated their family several times throughout her childhood. Despite extended stays in the Azores, Texas, France, Maine and New Jersey, she decided to return to the Bluegrass for college.

Alito spent her first two years at UK studying textiles and merchandising but had a change of heart two semesters before graduation.

“I was a contrarian,” she said. “I didn’t want to have to deal with the business aspect of the textiles major. Everybody else on campus was doing business.”

She switched her major to comparative literature and received her bachelor’s degree in 1975. Two years later, she completed her master’s degree in library science.She was also active on campus as a student athlete; Alito played both field hockey and women’s lacrosse at UK.

Several years later, she found herself in the public eye when her husband, Samuel Alito, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. In “One Letter Home,” she recounted stories of the paparazzi blocking off her street after Justice Alito’s appointment was official and reporters reducing her daughter to tears at a high school swim meet.

How does Alito handle all of the stressful press attention?

“Sixty-five percent cocoa. Dark chocolate,” she said, prompting laughter and understanding from the audience.

The dean of the UK College of Law, David Brennen, found Alito’s life experiences fascinating.

“Her life is one that any law student should strive to hear, know, and experience,” he said.

Deputy Chief Justice Mary Noble, the 2010 recipient of an annual award presented by the Hellenic Ideals Program, invited Alito to return to Kentucky to give this lecture for the same reason.

“Judges are a dime a dozen. They speak all the time,” Noble said. “It’s the family of a judge that makes it possible for them to do what they do.”

At the end of the lecture, both Martha-Ann and Justice Samuel Alito were honored as Kentucky Colonels.