WASHINGTON – In a virtual keynote address delivered to the 2020 National Lawyers Convention sponsored by the highly partisan conservative Federalist Society on Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. delivered a scorching critique of rulings by the high court — as well as decisions and actions taken during the novel coronavirus pandemic by state governors.
The 70-year-old conservative justice took particular aim at the 2015 Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage law across the nation.
The Justice prefaced his remarks by telling viewers it was strange to be addressing a camera as opposed to a room filled with an audience. He then went on to defend the Federalist Society saying that it is not an advocacy group, didn’t submit briefs before any courts in legal matters and pointed out that while “anyone can join, most members are generally conservative.”
Washington-based attorney and Salon magazine legal writer Mark Joseph Stern, tweeted the highlights of the live-streamed speech.
Stern noted Alito’s disdain of Obergefell; [Alito] said it has led to censorship of people who believe marriage is “a union of one man and one woman.” He said freedom of speech is “falling out of favor in some circles.” Alito also criticized the Colorado civil rights commissioner in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission who said “freedom of religion” can be used for discrimination.
Stern wrote that the Justice seemed highly critical of “sweeping restrictions” the various governmental jurisdictions nationwide have implemented as they battle the pandemic. He seemed openly disdainful of what he [Alito] views as “rule by experts.” Then Alito said: “in certain corners, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”
Alito appears to take aim at those governors including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and the California Health Department, who forbade in-door church gatherings and restricted outdoor assemblies to under 25 persons with a mask requirement to stop the certain spread of COVID-19 in those settings.
The Justice also criticized progressives and “New Dealers” for putting too much faith in scientists and experts.
Stern noted that, “Alito says this rule by ‘executive fiat is where the law has been going for some time — in the direction of government by executive officials who are thought to implement policies by scientific expertise.’ Then [Alito] suggested that this is a dangerous trend.”
Alito condemned Washington State for requiring pharmacies to carry Plan B, “which destroys an embryo after fertilization.” Then he switched back to his earlier critique of response to the pandemic criticizing the Nevada governor for giving casinos a higher COVID-19 attendance cap than churches. Alito moved on to criticizing the federal judge who suspended the rule that required people to pick up abortion pills in person.
Alito brought up a brief filed with the Supreme Court by five Democratic senators in a gun case warning that the court is becoming too political. He called the brief “an affront to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
Without saying the words “court-packing,” Alito warned about Democratic efforts to “bully” the court with threats to “restructure” it. He then told a story about a foreign judge threatened with death if he didn’t rule for the government, according to Stern.
As the speech wrapped up, Stern observed that “That was easily the most political speech I’ve ever seen delivered by a Supreme Court justice.”
“Wow. Same-sex marriage, guns, abortion, contraception, persecution of the Federalist Society … he really squeezed it all in there. Yikes,” Stern wrote. “Probably the strangest aspect of Alito’s speech — other than his attack on COVID restrictions, was his claim that people who oppose same-sex marriage get called ‘bigots’ and this somehow threatens freedom of speech. But how?! Public criticism is not censorship! He knows this!”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.