Fayette County

Justice Alito steers clear of controversy in UK talk

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gave an engaging talk on the manners and mores of his workplace Thursday evening but he steered far away from controversial topics such as the court's recent legalization on gay marriage.

Alito, who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush in 2005, spoke as part of the University of Kentucky College of Law's Roy and Virginia Ray Lecture Series. He based his speech on frequently asked questions he gets at the numerous public appearances he makes after the court adjourns every June.

For example, question one: Why not televise oral arguments?

Alito said people don't really want to see the workings of the court, which tend to take place in people's offices and homes, and in his case, in his pajamas.

"We would have the opportunity to be just as popular as Congress is," Alito joked. "You really do not want to see the court at work."

On a more serious note, he said that most of arguments in Supreme Court cases are made in the briefs. Lawyers who make oral arguments can't make a new case; they must restate the case in a new and engaging way.

"If oral arguments were televised, Alito said "the arguments would degenerate into a forum for soundbites.

His compromise? Go to youtube.com and watch a John Oliver segment called Supreme Court dogs, where nine dogs ask penetrating questions, lip synching the court audio. "I got the best dog," Alito boasted.

Do the justices get along? "Contrary to the impression you might get from reading our opinions, we are not at each other's throats," Alito explained. The legal disagreements "are profound, but we do not let that spill over into personal animosity."

At the end of the talk, Law School Dean David Brennan read three student questions, obviously vetted to avoid discussion of topics such as Alito's blistering dissent in the 5-4 gay marriage decision or the actions of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. Judicial funding, stream of commerce and executive authority instead were briefly mentioned.

The only talk of dissents was instead about their efficacy as a checks and balance to keep any authors of majority opinions from getting sloppy in their arguments.

"Dissents improve majority opinions," he said.