The Legal Intelligencer has a fascinating interview with self-described liberal and former Third Circuit Judge Timothy K. Lewis about Samuel Alito. The article is important not only because it reports Lewis’s very positive views about Alito, but also because it recounts how the late liberal judge A. Leon Higginbotham was a big fan, too:
“To call him ‘Scalito’ is to completely misunderstand him,” said attorney Timothy K. Lewis of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, a former 3rd Circuit judge who was Alito’s colleague for seven years.
Lewis, who describes himself as liberal, said Alito is solidly conservative and that the two sometimes disagreed, but that it was “always a deeply respectful disagreement.”
“First and foremost,” Lewis said, “Sam Alito is intellectually honest. This is what makes him a wonderful judge and also why I feel very good about his appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Lewis recalled that when he joined the 3rd Circuit in 1992, he met with the court’s former chief judge, A. Leon Higginbotham, to discuss the cast of characters who would soon become his colleagues.
When Alito’s name came up, Lewis said, Higginbotham, who died in 1998, had only good things to say. “He said ‘Sam Alito is my kind of conservative,'” Lewis said, and went on to describe Alito as “full of integrity” and “a pleasure to sit with.”
Lewis said Higginbotham’s description proved to be an accurate one, and that, despite their occasional disagreements, he found Alito to be a “careful” and “thoughtful” judge who is “reticent to the point of being shy.”
“Perhaps the best word to describe him is principled,” Lewis said.
Those familiar with the late Judge Higginbotham will recognize this praise as quite notable, even if it is hearsay. I think it’s fair to say that Higginbotham was one of the most severe critics of conservative legal thought in his day; as I recall, his articles and books dismissed the entire project as essentially corrupt and racist. The fact that Higginbotham had such high praise for Alito is telling. (Hat tip: Howard)