Conservative lawyers burst into thunderous applause and gave Judge Samuel Alito a standing ovation Thursday night for the 5-4 opinion he wrote earlier this year that overturned a federal constitutional right to abortion that had been recognized for nearly half a century. was created.
Alito was one of four judges to attend a black-tie gala at Washington’s Union Station to mark the 40th anniversary of the Federalist Society, the right-wing advocacy group that has been instrumental in preparing and vetting candidates. to be nominated to the federal judiciary by Republican presidents.
During a short, light-hearted address to the approximately 2,000 in attendance, Alito praised the organization for growing from its humble beginnings into the highly influential operation it is today.
“Son, do you need work today,” the George W. Bush appointee declared. “Congratulations to the Federalist Society on 40 years.”
Alito made no mention of June’s earth-shattering ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization or overruling Roe v. Wadebut shortly after leaving the stage, one of the event’s presenters saluted Alito for his torrid opinion that roe.
“The dobbs decision will forever be an indelible part of Justice Alito’s legacy,” said Steven Markham, founder of the group’s DC chapter. As the crowd cheered Alito, Markham praised. “I don’t know of any decision, in any court, by any judge, that that judge could be more proud of that legacy,” he said, sparking more applause.
The court’s ruling in June — and POLITICO’s publication of a draft of Alito’s opinion about two months before the final decision was made — sparked protests in court, across the country and several conservative judges.
When Judge Amy Comey Barrett took the stage on Thursday night, the audience also gave her a hearty round of applause, prompting her to refer to those demonstrations as a joke. “It’s really nice to have a lot of noise that isn’t made by protesters outside my house,” President Donald Trump’s appointee joked.
Trump’s other two Supreme Court picks — Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — also attended the gala but made no public comments.
In addition to the protests, conservative judges received several threats leading up to and following the abortion ruling. Alito recently said he was afraid of being killed. In addition, in early June, a California man was arrested outside Kavanaugh’s Maryland home and charged with attempted murder of the judge.
Because of those concerns, the meeting took place Thursday under unusual secrecy and unprecedented security. The dinner program was not announced in advance, although individual judges have served as keynote speakers in recent years.
Plainclothes police shadowed the judges, uniformed police were stationed around the perimeter of the event and Supreme Court police armed with rifles stood next to journalists on a balcony overlooking the hall.
At least two well-known figures from Capitol Hill were in attendance: Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who will speak at the group’s annual conference Friday.
During Thursday night’s presentation, those in attendance also heard from Leonard Leo, a prominent leader of the Federalist Society who played a pivotal role in Trump’s selection of Supreme Court nominees and technical efforts to install conservatives in the federal judiciary. Leo joked that he was seen by many on the left as a “Darth Vader” figure.
“I looked at that Darth Vader and said, Boy, I want to be like him when I grow up,” said Leo, who is known for his prodigious fundraising efforts.
Leo said he is amazed at the impact the Federalist Society has had over four decades and wants the organization to continue its work.
“After 40 years, our successes have expanded and our mission is more important and urgent than ever,” he said. “It’s great to celebrate this milestone. Let’s rededicate ourselves to spreading the principles and practices we hold dear and together, for the sake of our country and our culture, let’s make this mighty oak tree and everything around it even stronger.”
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