Alito and the Changing Face of Conservatism:

One of the more interesting elements of the Alito is what it says about the changing face of conservatism in the United States and the general drift of ethnic Catholics (some might say "urban Catholics") toward the Republican Party. Alito, along with Scalia, now makes the second ethnic Catholic to be appointed to the Court (no Poles yet, of course). I have yet to see an in-depth profile of his personal life, but one profile I read this morning indicated that he is the son of an Italian immigrant who worked in the New Jersey State Government, presumably from a relatively modest background (I'm just speculating on that point for now). Thus, three of the most conservative Justices (probably the three most conservative) on the Supreme Court would be a black man raised in Georgia poverty and two Italian-Americans, all Catholic as well. This group traditionally has been Democratic and liberal in orientation, which adds to the puzzle. Perhaps this is simply an isolated coincidence, but I wonder whether this demographic fact says something deeper about the nature of modern conservatism and political alignments in the country. In the possibility that there is something larger at work here, I'll take a stab at trying to offer an explanation.

In true old-world style, his mother is even named Rose (yes, her name is actually "Rose Alito" from New Jersey--no word from Bruce Springsteen on the nomination). The New York Times has some great quotes from her in its profile of him:

Alito's mother, Rose, who will turn 91 in December, spent Monday fielding congratulatory telephone calls from her home in Hamilton, N.J., a Trenton suburb. ''I'm so excited I can't even express myself,'' she said.

More candid that her son might wish, she said, ''I think he was upset that he didn't get there in the first shot, that Miers got it.'' That was a reference to Bush's choice of Harriet Miers, since withdrawn.

If confirmed, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court. ''Of course he's against abortion,'' his mother said, another comment supporters in Washington might wish she'd held back.

I suspect that there were plenty of us who grew up in Italian, Polish, or similar households who feel like we know Rose Alito.

I think that the demographic fact of the make-up of the conservative Justices (Thomas, Scalia, and Alito) is a remarkable statement on the nature of modern conservatism (I'm frankly not sure where Roberts fits in this). I don't know Alito, but I feel like my background growing up is similar enough to his that I will hazard a few speculations on what this says about the nature of modern conservativism. For those like myself (and I hazard to guess Scalia, Alito, and Thomas) conservatism is attractive because it now seems to be the party of meritocracy where one is judged on your character and ability, and not on your connections or demographics. As the doors of schools such as Princeton and Yale Law School (in Alito's case), and the professions themselves have been thrown open to Italians, Poles, Irish, etc., individuals such as Scalia and Alito have had the opportunity to prove themselves. All that is asked is for the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of a free country and to compete on equal terms.

Among other things, I think this cultural upbringing reflects itself in a skepticism about racial preferences in college admissions and hiring. It is difficult to say, from what I can tell, that Sam Alito's ascent to the Supreme Court came about through some sort of unfair advantage, money, or family connections. In the legal arena, I think this cultural temperament may reflect itself in a anti-elitist streak rebelling against the arrogance of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary and a humility in the face of the common-sense of citizens as reflected through democratically-elected legislatures. These old rules and elitism historically were used by the WASPs to discriminate and exclude ethnic Catholics. From all reports I hear about Alito, he also is a genuinely human, nice, and down-to-Earth guy, or, in other words "a regular guy."

In general then, I think this is more of a populist conservatism with a strong anti-elitist strain to it. Scalia articulates this anti-elitist populism forcefully in many of his opinions, and I suspect that to the extent that Alito is fruit from a similar tree, a similar populism is present in his thought. This is Reagan-style conservatism (perhaps with a bit of Nixonian populism) rather than Bush conservatism.

(Historical footnote: Nixon actually toyed with the idea of appointing an ethnic Catholic to the Court, but in the end chose not to do so. There are some great soundbites in John Dean's book The Rehnquist Choice where you can hear Nixon speculating on whether there are any good "Poles or Italians" out there that he can put on the Court.) Strangely enough, the five most conservative members of the Court are now all Catholic.


Reading the Comments, apparently "ethnic Catholic" is more of a term of art than I was aware. I simply have in mind the more traditionally working-class Catholic cultures of Southern and Eastern Europe (Italy, Poland, plus the Irish), versus the "high Catholicism" of Western Europe (as found in England, France, Austria, etc.). As my relatives would put it, it is the difference between those "whose names end with vowels" and those who do not. I thought this was a fairly conventionally-understood distinction. Perhaps the best way to explain it is to simply illustrate it--Scalia and Alito are "ethnic Catholics" and Roberts and Kennedy are not. Judging from some of the Comments, it may only be ethnic Catholics that draw this distinction.

I should also make clear that I certainly am not implying that the world or conservatism is truly meritocratic--President Bush quite plainly illustrates the continued role of pull and family connections. Class undoubtedly still matters. I'm simply saying that for those like myself (and perhaps Alito) conservatism at least since Reagan (and perhaps even Nixon) appears relatively more meritocratic in principle than liberalism. Perhaps this perception is incorrect, but that doesn't mean it is absent. As an example, consider the changing perception of labor unions in the minds of the ethnic Americans I am describing--do they help out the "little guy" or are they an apparatus for protecting seniority and connections? You will get a strong disagreement of opinion on this issue. More relevantly, one's opinion on this is neither "correct" or "incorrect" but is rather subjective.

I deleted a paragraph from an earlier version.

Commenterlein (mail):
How to you explain the (admittedly subjective) observation that the majority of the Italians, Poles, Irish, Jews, etc. who took advantage of the new meritocratic admission standards at the Harvards and Princetons of this country to gain an elite education did not end up members of the "concervative party of meritocracy" you so nicely envision, and instead became members of the probably even more meritocratic liberal elite?

Said differently, it's nice and heart-warming story you are telling in your post above, but shouldn't you also acknowledge that most hard-working immigrant children reaching the top level of academic achievment (just like you and Alito did) do not actually agree with your and his world view?
10.31.2005 5:39pm
Trying ... not ... to ... puke.

Something tells me that each individual you mentioned had something 99.9999% of all people don't have: an amazing intellect that they were blessed with at birth. It's easy to argue for competition on the "merits" when the deck is stacked in your favor from the begining. How is it that Alito (or yourself) earned your intellect? How did that come about by hard work? Could it be that if Alito weren't nearly as bright, he might feel diffrently about government assistance?
10.31.2005 5:51pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
For those like myself (and I hazard to guess Scalia, Alito, and Thomas) conservatism is attractive because it now seems to be the party of meritocracy where one is judged on your character and ability, and not on your connections or demographics. As the doors of schools such as Princeton and Yale Law School (in Alito's case), and the professions themselves have been thrown open to Italians, Poles, Irish, etc., individuals such as Scalia and Alito have had the opportunity to prove themselves. All that is asked is the opportunity to take advantage of the blessings of a free society and to compete on the merits.

ROTFLMAO. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the other hand, as a Jewish woman going to law school in the '50's never had to fight to have the doors opened for her. Conservatives and meritocracy???? You have to be kidding me. Does the name George W. Bush mean anything to you? How 'bout Michael Brown (heckuva job there Brownie)? Harriet Miers?

And you use Clarence Thomas as an example --- regardless of how you feel Justice Thomas has developed, he was hardly (not even f-cking close) to the most "meritorious" conservative pick Poppy Bush could have made at the time. Keep living in fantasy land there Todd.

10.31.2005 5:52pm
Marc J.:
Aww, how sweet. It's just so heart-warming to read that TZ can relate to Alito not merely as "an immigrant's son who has risen to the top of the profession on hard work and smarts, while sticking up for his principles," but also for "retaining his basic humility throughout."

Wait, sorry, what does humility mean again?
10.31.2005 5:57pm
Yes, and echoing the theme of this post, may I also point out that Clarence Thomas clearly exemplifies the drift of African-Americans towards the GOP. What a hoot.
10.31.2005 5:58pm
Jack S. (mail) (www):
Is this the headline to a made for TV movie? A tear is coming to my eye. This is beautiful.
10.31.2005 6:04pm
Veggie_Burger (mail):
What is the difference between "ethnic Catholics" and plain old Catholics? Is that a euphemism for a person of Italian backgroud? The word "ethnic" has a bothersome ring to it like "he's an ethnic Jew" or something like that.
10.31.2005 6:06pm
Billy Bob:
Brennan was an ethnic Catholic. So that's three.
10.31.2005 6:09pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Yes, and echoing the theme of this post, may I also point out that Clarence Thomas clearly exemplifies the drift of African-Americans towards the GOP. What a hoot.

Great point -- the last poll on the subject had W with an approval rating amongst African-Americans at a whopping 2 percent. Apparently the lowest ever seen by a longshot. As Kanye West said: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." True or not, the statement clearly resonated even amongst those African-Americans who vote GOP.

10.31.2005 6:12pm
Mercutio (mail):
Er, 'ethnic catholic?' What does that mean, exactly? I'm Irish for, example... does that make me an 'ethnic catholic?' Or do you just mean that he's Italian?

VB: I'm not an expert by any means, but IIRC, Judaiasm DID originally arise (and dominate) a specific ethnic group, did it not, as opposed to the latter religions of the Book, which have historically-documented origins and which spread across ethnic and racial lines to a egree Judaism did not? It's why people call themselves 'half-Jewish' and suchly; they're referring to the Jewish ethnicity (the 'sons of Issac' biblically) which may not be the same as being a practicing Jew. But I'm not sure about this.
10.31.2005 6:18pm
lucia (mail) (www):

The majority of Catholics are ethnic Catholics; a few aren't.

My grandfather Foote was a non-ethnic Catholic. My grandfather Tiernan and grandmother Flynn were ethnic Catholics. My grandmother Harding had an ethnic Catholic parent and a non-ethnic Catholic parent.

Based on my mother-in-laws experience, and that of some others, I can also vouch for the fact that some Catholic parishes in the Chicago area kicked out the ethnic Poles in favor of non-ethnic and earlier arriving Irish Catholics.

I'm agnostic, but I completely understand what Todd is saying.
10.31.2005 6:18pm
How sappy. Look, TZ, let me give you some advice -- this blog is read by many people outside of the conservative/libertarian movement, as I'm sure many liberals such as myself turn to it for intelligent discussions of contemporary legal/political issues. When you (and your colleagues) offer intelligent posts that are well-thought out and well-argued, readers such as myself (as I said, a liberal) become more likely to turn to this website for commentary and pay attention to your posts, which increases your influence. When you offer sappy, bogus garbage like the above post that makes you sound like a partisan hack/pundit, you come off more like Hugh Hewitt during the Miers debacle, and less like Eugene Volokh -- not a good thing. Too many more of these useless offerings, and you run the risk of having at least part of your audience ignore you completely, and I can't help but think that you run the risk of alienating some of your colleagues in the academy as well.
10.31.2005 6:22pm
murky (mail) (www):
At least Bush didn't nominate a Wahabist.
10.31.2005 6:24pm
tab (mail):
Do we really have to create a new group? "Ethnic Catholic?" Sheesh!
10.31.2005 6:24pm
Pete Freans (mail):
Being a Catholic, first generation Italian-American attorney, I felt that Todd's description was heartwarming. Thank you for articulating my thoughts exactly.

So when is the telephone hotline to the Vatican being installed?
10.31.2005 6:31pm
John Steele (mail):
About that "ethnic Catholic" thing .... I may be able to explain. My mom, an Irish Catholic, taught me that there are two kinds of people: there are the Irish and then there are the various ethnic peoples of the world. She was kidding. I don't think Todd was.

But before we jump on Todd too much, I can attest that among at least some Catholic Irish, Italians, and Poles, there was a feeling that we were considered ethnic in a way that Anglo-Americans were not. I'm sure that's all Todd meant, right?
10.31.2005 6:35pm
SG (mail):
Wow -- I am somewhat amazed by the negative reactions to a post that had me nodding along the entire way. I wonder if it's really true that most of the people that share Alito's background do not share his current views. I find it hard to believe that many folks who grew up Italian and Catholic in the Newark area share David Souter's world view, at any rate. To my mind, I see this as the continuing effect of the "Reagan Revolution" and the attraction it held for the Reagan Democrats, many of whom came from the same background as Alito and (I would guess) Zywicki: urban and Catholic. Personally, I'm not Catholic, but the qualities that Prof Zywicki describes are the ones that drew me to modern conservatism. No one is saying that that movement is perfect, or that there are not non-meritocratic elements out there; we're just saying that these aspects of modern conservatism are what brought us into the fold.
10.31.2005 6:46pm
tim (mail):
Todd, thank you for your moving tribute to Alito. I'm sorry that others misinterpreted your post as somehow self-congratulatory.

What they fail to understand is that had you tried to find a home in the liberal party you would have been rejected for your Polish/Catholic background. The same is no doubt true for Alito. It is remarkable that conservatives have moved past anti-catholic bigotry. If only the left could act in kind.

As you humbly remind them, yours is the party of meritocracy. And no one exemplifies the true spirit of your party more than Clarence Thomas -- a man raised in poverty who later proved a useful affirmative action hire for the right.

Bless you, Todd. May you never forget your humble beginnings.
10.31.2005 6:46pm
DJ (mail):
Wow. Seems that a lot of people didn't much like Prof. Zywicki's musings. Anti-Polish bigotry, no doubt!
10.31.2005 6:53pm
Alaska Jack (mail):

Trying ... not ... to ... puke. ...

How sappy ...

From the posting guidelines:

Here's a tip: Reread your post, and think of what people would think if you said this over dinner. If you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, rewrite your post before hitting enter.

It's a big Internet, people. Generally, the folks who hang out here do so because the tone is a little different than you find at the Democratic Underground. I would like to see it stay that way, and I suspect most of the other visitors here would as well.

- AJ
10.31.2005 6:56pm
chris (mail):
Dear Professor Volokh,

Please turn off comments for those without the right to post. The commenters here are hysterical and rude. (Present company and a small minority of previous posters in this thread excluded, of course). You have a large enough group of bloggers that commenting among yourselves would be far more enlightning.
10.31.2005 7:02pm
lucia (mail) (www):
What they fail to understand is that had you tried to find a home in the liberal party you would have been rejected for your Polish/Catholic background. The same is no doubt true for Alito. It is remarkable that conservatives have moved past anti-catholic

Actually, I doubt this would have affected significantly Todd, who is younger than Alito. Many of the ethnic divisions inside the Catholic church have melted, and the anti-catholic bias outside the catholic church has diminished. I know many liberal Polish Catholics.
10.31.2005 7:10pm
david blue (mail) (www):
Sorry, Chris, but IMHO most of the commenters are right - Todd's post makes little sense. Consider whether a similar line of argument would work for Jews, who of course for many years suffered discrimination as bad as the Catholics had it, if not worse, in elite, WASP-dominated institutions like the Ivies. Of course the argument fails miserably - Jews are in general more liberal than the general population.
10.31.2005 7:13pm
Relatively New Reader (mail):
"Here's a tip: Reread your post, and think of what people would think if you said this over dinner. If you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, rewrite your post before hitting enter. "

I couldn't tell if this poster was critiquing those who responded to the blog entry, or to the blog entry itself!

Everyone is here to read intelligent discussion, and as a new reader who has been really impressed by the discussion on this site, I think that is pretty clear to us all. But this blog entry...maybe that's why you're seeing some more knee jerk responses.
10.31.2005 7:18pm
It's especially interesting that Republicans have been appointing so many Catholics (ethnic and non-ethnic) to the Supreme Court, when the presidency itself seems to have become the exclusive preserve of white Protestants. I'm not sure what it means.
10.31.2005 7:22pm
"For those like myself (and I hazard to guess Scalia, Alito, and Thomas) conservatism is attractive because it now seems to be the party of meritocracy where one is judged on your character and ability, and not on your connections or demographics"

The word "connections" really doesn't belong there. Conservatism is extremely attractive to ultra-rich and easily bribed voters (that is, voters who only vote republican because they want to keep more money and pay less in taxes, and not because they adhere to any real libertarian political theory, but only because they're greedy), who are overwhelmingly the group with all the fancy connections. The conservative party is the place to be for that crowd. I suspect you felt obligated to put the word "connections" in there to distance the sentence from a straightforward attack on affirmative action, and to make it at least sound like an homage to merit more generally.

And come to think of it, why wouldn't a libertarian free-marketeer think that admissions favors for the ultra-rich is a perfectly acceptable quid pro quo for Universities that are constantly begging everyone in sight for contributions? Hey, it's your money, if you want to spend on large donations to get your kid in to Harvard, what harm is there in that? One kid in god knows how many, but the entire university benefits from the donation, and the better our universities are, the better our society is, right? What is the conservative/libertarian response to that?
10.31.2005 7:45pm
And I defy anyone to mount a credible argument that the doors to Yale Law School were thrown open to Clarence Thomas or - to a lesser extent - Alito thanks to the efforts of American conservatives. I don't expect anyone to even try.
10.31.2005 7:51pm
Well, but breakdown, that was then, this is now. I defy anyone to mount a credible argument that Clarence Thomas's ancestors were freed by Democrats, but somehow I doubt that affects your political preferences.
10.31.2005 7:56pm
Zywicki (mail):
Ok folks, let's please calm down. The point of this post was to try to stimulate thought on something that I think is really quite an unusual historic development--that the three most conservative members of the Court would be drawn from a pool that historically has not been considered very conservative but has been becoming moreso over time. My particular focus here is on Scalia and Alito. I am using them to exemplify a certain world view. And I am trying to offer my possible explanation, drawing on my own personal experience, to explain this development. I am not saying that the proffered beliefs are necessarily true, just that they may explain the evolution of the thinking of Scalia, Alito, and perhaps others like them.

Nor am I saying that it is necessarily the case that groups that have been discriminated against or excluded necessarily become more conservative (blacks in general and Jews as some Commenters have noted). Indeed, that doesn't answer the question it simply deepens the puzzle, namely, why have the members of this particular group drifted toward conservatism when the other groups have not.

The question I was hoping to put on the table was what, if anything, does it say about American society if we appoint the second-ever ethnic Catholic who also turns out to be quite conservative. The question is intended as an intellectual, not partisan question.
10.31.2005 8:19pm
Simon (391563) (mail) (www):
The fact that the Democratic party used to be the home of conservatives and the Republican progressives is hardly a response to the argument that conservatives (from both parties) have, by and large, stood in the doorway of every social and legal institution, resisting the extension of most social and political rights.

And yes, as someone mentioned before, the notion that the same conservative movement that elected George W. Bush somehow embodies a "meritocracy" is laughable.
10.31.2005 8:20pm
Bezuhov (mail):
I'm curious about the age/geogrphic location of commenters dumbfounded by Todd's post. Seems unremarkable to me (35-years-old, having grown up in midwestern suburbia and since lived in the South and on the Coasts, experience in both academia and NGO's/corporate), although I could see how it could rub some folks the wrong way, depending upon your generation and/or geographic background.

Please consider that people of remarkably similar temperament/values are routinely considered "conservatives" in some times/places and "liberals" in others. Consider this snippet from the above post:

"Alito was a member of Stevenson Hall, a University-sponsored alternative to the eating clubs which Grais described as 'the main alternative to the private clubs for those of us who wanted a more egalitarian atmosphere.'"

I'd imagine that nearly all liberals, then and now, would consider this a very liberal thing to do, and would think of the eating clubs as the worst sort of conservative bastion. The change is that most intellectual conservatives, like Todd and Alito, now consider it a very conservative things to do, as the eating clubs of today have been taken over by the liberal elite that now runs the universities.
10.31.2005 8:26pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Isn't Kennedy Irish? Doesn't that make him an ethnic Catholic?
10.31.2005 8:29pm
Paul N (mail):
I apologize if this is rude and I admit I have no evidence to support this suspicion, but I am dubious as to whether any of the Supreme Court justices besides Scalia, and perhaps Thomas, personally believe in God (much less, in the case of the Catholic justices, profess to follow to the Catechism of Catholic Church).

I do not by any means intend this as an attack or criticism; my observation is simply that only Scalia and Thomas ever refer to God, based on what I have seen, in quotes or speeches, at least in a way that makes it sound like they believe in God. See for example oral arguments in Newdow. Certainly it's possible that someone who never refers to God might believe in God, but among brainy academics and high-ranking judges, I think we would agree that the religious are quite rare, and that there's significant political pressure to appear religious.

Their religion is perhaps interesting as a demographic fact, and that is indeed how it seems to be discussed in the posts here. I do believe it is important, however, to make the distinction between ethnic/ancestral Catholicism and practicing Catholicism (or other religions for that matter), because many (mostly those who practice their religion) are likely to be confused by a statement like "5/9 of the Supreme Court will be Catholic."
10.31.2005 9:48pm
ANM (mail):
"What is the conservative/libertarian response to that?"
The libertarian attitude towards affirmative action: That government should not mandate affirmative action, and that private institutions and employers may enact those programs at their own expense. Moreover, applying this principle in full means eliminating all government subsidies to universities. Universities seem to lack the proper incentives/motivations. Perhaps the best way of insuring such incentives is by being a for-profit institution, so that they are forced to meet the demands of their consumers. I concede that it is a bit paradoxical to have a for-profit company reject 90% of its customers. But consider the vast bureaucracy of colleges, rising tuition, superflous offices like all those inclusion organizations etc.

In general, the libertarian attitude (not the reasoning) towards such regulation is, if YOU want to do that, fine, but don't try to force other people to comply with your whims.

Politics is hardly meritocratic, so don't expect any politician, no matter his banter, to consistently reward merit.
10.31.2005 10:02pm
Relatively New Reader (mail):
tim, above, wrote: "It is remarkable that conservatives have moved past anti-catholic bigotry. If only the left could act in kind"

Are you serious? John Kerry isn't Catholic? John Kennedy? Or is he somehow not Catholic enough for you? And if that is the case, I wonder what Mr. Alito's views on the death penalty are?

As to Professor Zywicki's point in his response, above, about what it says about America as a whole that two "ethnic Catholics" can be on the court at the same time and both be conservative, I would agree that this is good for the country to have members of all religions involved in any party they choose. In the last national election, I remember reading a lot about how more traditional members of religions (by that I mean, for example, the distinction between an Orthodox or Reform Jew), Jews and Catholics in particular, were beginning to move towards voting Republican even though historically they had voted for Democrats and that this shift was based on social rather than fiscal rationales. It is perhaps unsurprising that two members who seem to embody this shift in their written views on societal issues would be conservative. Maybe the only surprise is that they would be ahead of the general trend, as their views have been established for many years.
10.31.2005 11:03pm
Visitor Again:
Bwahahahahahaha. And this is the guy who in an earlier post today complained of Justice Kennedy's "flights of fancy."
11.1.2005 1:50am
Are the French "ethnic Catholics"? Are Hispanics?
11.1.2005 4:36am
Brett Marston:
Todd: does this "world view" inform Scalia's and Alito's constitutional decisionmaking? This wouldn't surprise me, but I thought that conservative judges weren't supposed to allow their own background or experiences to determine their approach to the law. You might say that there are other reasons to attack affirmative action, but given the strong originalist arguments in favor of a 14th Amendment that allows affirmative action rather than prohibits it, seems to me that with your post we're now in the realm of a realist analysis of Scalia's and Alito's approach to the issue. Put another way: the roots of the colorblind constitution are probably more firmly set in populist conservatism than they are in the 14th Amendment. Just a thought.
11.1.2005 9:18am
master betty (mail):
I don't know which was more interesting, the post or the comments. I think there is a book, or maybe an article, to be found here.

I am a semi non-ethnic white male Catholic lawyer (Irish catholic on my mother's side). I attached no particular meaning to the term; the fact that so many others did strikes me as remarkable.

I enjoyed the post and found myself to be largely in agreement. I noted especially the references to Reagan and his appeal. The phrase, "all that is asked is for the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of a free country and to compete on equal terms" is classic Reagan, and the extent to which rhetoric like this resonates with the reader probably explains the divergent views expressed in response to the post. To my mind, this phrase reflects a core value (arguably the core value) of Goldwater-Reagan conservatism. This is different in kind from Bush conservatism.

Accordingly, could care less that Alito - or any member of the Court - is a Catholic. Or Jewish, Protestant, male, female, black, white, hispanic or asian. What I do care about is his (or her) intelligence, and even more importantly, his (or her) intellectual integrity.
I think that the last four nominees to the Court (excluding Miers, about whom I hold no strong opinion), meet this test.

Their supposed ideologies really don't matter to me if they have intellectual integrity.
11.1.2005 1:24pm
BruceInIloilo (www):
I liked this post and I, as a Bostonian, understood the "ethnic Catholic" comment, but it is perhaps a distinction only understood by those of the Easet Coast and Industrial cities.

I would like to echo the conservatism/populist v. liberal/elite thinking. I grew up in the third wealthiest town in Massachusetts. It was very Republican (it voted for Nixon over McGovern, Bush over Dukakis, and of course Dole over Clinton), but it is very socially liberal These are old-time liberal WASP Republicans, hardly conservatives. For instance, Sen. Saltonstall used to live there. They ran their world — their companies, their schools - including colleges, and their town. These were people used to making the big decisions. No one was going to tell them what to do because they were the top. The buck stopped with them. They had no superiors.

Why shouldn't they — who run companies that employ thousands, who make life-and-death decisions — make their own decisions on moral and ethical matters? They weren't going to listen to any Pope or any tradition. They are so used to deciding for themselves, running their own lives, that they became used to making their own moral decisions. And they were right, damn it! Since most were very successful and self-made men, they kept to their own consel.

They are not humble.

(And in many ways have a right not to be. How humble should Bill Gates be?)

But it takes humility to submit. To submit to authority. To submit to tradition. To submit to the Consitution.

Successful, self-made entreprenaurs are not humble, and neither are their kids or grand-kids (see the Kennedys). For judicial restraint, you need humility.

One core of Catholicism is that it demands humility - it demands submission to Tradition and the Church. One core of ethnic Catholicism is that it demands submission to — to the family and to the ethnic traditions be they Italian or Irish.

Does this make sense?
11.2.2005 6:42am
John Keohane (mail):
To illustrate the professor's article there is an old story about Joe Kennedy in pre-1960 Boston working on trying to get Jack the nomination. Joe knew that there was strong anti-Catholic sentiment in some southern states and some of the southern senators. One such senator was invited to Boston and came. When there he was asked if he would mind going around to various political/social meetings with Jack and cautioned that they would be with "Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics and Polish Catholics." The senator said he would not mind at all and went on the rounds. Late in the night at the last meeting the senator was told he had been a "good sport" and was asked if he would like to say a few words to the crowd. Being a senator he did not hesitate and said: "My friends, tonight I was told that I would meet many Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics and Polish Catholics, and I said 'that's alright with me, it's those Roman Catholics we have to look out for"."
There are many people who will recognize the truth in the professor's observations. Also, he will learn Justice Roberts is an ethnic Catholic. And, in addition, Bruce's comments are also accurate.
11.2.2005 7:55am
TImur leng (mail):
I'm one of those ethnic Catholics that is spoken about here. I'm about 20 or so years younger that Alito but there is something about the meritocracy of Catholic school. I went to Catholic schools in the suburbs of Chicago. My folks were from Ireland. My dad was a mechanic until he got sick. Some of my friends' fathers ran large companies while others were stationery engineers or cafeteria cooks. I was never treated differently by teachers, friends, etc. I was given every opportunity to get ahead.
11.2.2005 8:11am
nabetz (www):
Interesting hypothesis. And hopefully true. But I would caution against making a trend out of as small a number as three. Especially when those three are truly exceptional and thus non-representative individuals.

Would a survey of exit polling or some such shed any light here on the general hypothesis? Or narrowing that hypothesis to federal judges, a check into the ethnic, religious, and ideological backgrounds of the same?
11.2.2005 10:40am
Donna Dallas (mail) (www):
What they fail to understand is that had you tried to find a home in the liberal party you would have been rejected for your Polish/Catholic background. The same is no doubt true for Alito.

Sorry, but that is just nonsense on stilts. Completely made up, pulled directly from the posterior. Upon what do you base this perfectly ridiculous assertion?
11.2.2005 3:54pm
Ben (Cupertino, CA):
Three observations from a proud immigrant to the U.S.:

(1) The status of Italians as "ethnic Catholics" seems to be a selective East Coast (New England?) phenomenon, and to this observer does not seem to obtain in New York and New Jersey. In San Francisco and the Bay Area, Italians are very much the old establishment in politics, commerce, the judiciary, and - significantly - ownership of prime real estate.

The California Supreme Court traditionally had an informal slot for one Italian, as well as other slots for significant old-immigrant constituencies (e.g. Chinese). By contrast, the first clearly Hispanic justice (Moreno) was only appointed recently.

(2) In Britain and European countries (as until recently in the U.S.), there has always been an informal understanding that appellate court justices should reflect a rough balance of religious and regional backgrounds as well as (more recently) maintaining some gender balance.

Here in the U.S., Justice Ginsburg has repeatedly spoken of the importance of her Jewish background to her legal thinking. Viewed in this light, concerted (and apparently well-meaning) attempts to avoid open discussion of religious background of Alito fly in the face of common sense.

To the majority of Americans who are not Catholic and view the worldwide Catholic Church with some skepticism, a Supreme Court that is five-ninth Catholic is frankly of concern, notwithstanding the fact that these justices represent a wide ideological spectrum.

Surely, President Bush could have identify a genuinely conservative non-Catholic other than Harriet Myers. Janice Rogers Brown is a hi-voltage judge who has repeatedly shown her conservative mettle. (This is perhaps why her appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had less than overwhelming Republican support).

(3) One further thought - a 5:4 Catholic/non-Catholic constellation on the Supreme Court may work against "Catholic" viewpoints (whatever and however dissonant they may be in a given case). For reasons of bureaucratic self-preservation, the Supreme Court will try hard to avoid 5:4 decisions pitting the Catholic contingent against the various Protestants and Jews.

N.B.: The fact that some justices are clearly secularists and perhaps atheists does not negate the impact of their religious/social upbringing.
1.4.2006 7:39pm