U.S. Supreme Court

Alito Tells of Frustration over Media Mistakes and Bumper-Sticker Spin


Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. says the media isn’t always correct in its coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court and its opinions.

Alito spoke at the Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, R.I., on Friday, the Associated Press reports. “Sometimes it’s inadvertent, and sometimes opinions are spun, just like everything else,” he said. “They’re reduced to a slogan that you put on a bumper sticker, and that’s very frustrating.”

As an example, Alito cited the Citizens United decision finding that corporations have a First Amendment right to support political candidates. “Campaign finance is very complicated, so it’s easy to get it wrong, and sometimes people get it wrong inadvertently,” he said.

Alito said that the justices speak through their opinions, however, and it’s not a good idea to “engage in a back-and-forth” with those who misinterpret the decisions.

Alito attracted a lot of news coverage himself when he mouthed the words “not true” as President Obama criticized the Citizens United ruling in his State of the Union speech in 2010.

Alito talked about the episode when he spoke to student leaders at the law school, according to an account at the Roger Williams website. He said he didn’t realize the press had received an advance copy of the president’s speech and was waiting for the justices’ reaction. If he had known, Alito said, he would have been careful to keep a poker face. “This is my 15 minutes of fame,” he said. He added that his facial expressions caused problems for him as a high school debater. He would make faces during his opponents’ arguments, he said, leading to lowered evaluations.

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