Alito regales area's lawyers

The newest Supreme Court justice is the keynote speaker at the Federal Bar gala.

Published March 9, 2007

TAMPA - A judge isn't all that different from a baseball umpire, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito told a ballroom packed with lawyers Thursday night.

Both jobs involve interpreting complex rules. Their decisions are heavily scrutinized. And the duties can be thankless.

But, as Alito noted, no one ever booed a Supreme Court justice. At least not publicly.

"I am happy to be a judge and not an umpire," Alito said, as the crowd at the Grand Hyatt Tampa laughed.

Alito, 56, the newest member of the Supreme Court, was the keynote speaker for Tampa Bay Federal Bar Association's annual gala Thursday.

In his hourlong talk, he drew comparisons between baseball and the law and discussed his first 13 months as a part of the country's highest legal authority.

A longtime Philadelphia Phillies fan, Alito said he was especially happy to be in Tampa during spring training season.

Alito was nominated to the court in October 2005 to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, Alito worked as a law clerk and assistant U.S. attorney in Newark before coming to Washington in the start of the Reagan administration.

He returned to his native New Jersey as U.S. attorney, then was nominated to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the first President Bush in 1990, where he remained until joining the Supreme Court.

Alito said he had very little time to ponder his new job after being sworn in on Jan. 31, 2006.

"Within literally a couple of hours, I had to begin casting votes. And some of them were on very sensitive matters," he said.

He said he also learned the two duties expected of the most junior member of the court: Answering the door during conferences and keeping the official tally during votes.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.