Supreme Court’s Alito says the recent pointed words between justices are nothing personal — but appeared to take a swipe at Kagan for her comments on Roe v. Wade

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U.S. Supreme Court associate justices Samuel Alito (L) and Elana Kagan testify about the court's budget during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee's Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee March 07, 2019 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Supreme Court associate justices Samuel Alito (L) and Elena Kagan testify about the court’s budget during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee March 07, 2019 in Washington, DC.

  • Justice Samuel Alito appeared to take a swipe at Justice Elena Kagan in an interview on Tuesday.
  • “Someone also crosses an important line when they say that the Court is acting in a way that is illegitimate,” Alito said.
  • He added that the justices often disagree about the law but get along well personally. 

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said during a Q&A at The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday that pointed words between justices were nothing personal, but he appeared to take a swipe at fellow Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan for her comments about Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn the federal right to an abortion. 

“We sometimes disagree pretty passionately about the law,” Alito told Heritage President Kevin Roberts of his fellow justices. “We have not in recent years been all that restrained about the terms in which we express our disagreement.”

Alito said that during his 16 years on the Court, the nine justices have always gotten along personally, but they tend to disagree when it comes to making decisions.

“I’m as guilty as others probably on this core, but none of this is personal, and that is something that I think I wish the public understood,” he said.

During their conversation, Roberts asked Alito about recent comments from his Supreme Court colleagues, saying that the “Court has strayed too far from public sentiment on several current issues” and that it “threatens the Court’s legitimacy as an apolitical institution.” 

Roberts then pointed out that Alito recently said that questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Court as an apolitical institution “crosses an important line.”

“Everybody in this country is free to disagree with our decisions,” Alito responded. “Everybody is free to criticize our reasoning and to do it in strong terms, and that’s certainly is done.”

“But to say that the Court is exhibiting a lack of integrity is something quite different that goes to character. It goes not to the agreement or disagreement, not to a disagreement with the result or the reasoning, it goes to character,” Alito said. 

Alito then appeared to make a jab at Kagan, referring to Kagan’s September comments in which she said the Court could begin to be viewed as illegitimate if justices start imposing their personal beliefs on public decisions. 

“Someone also crosses an important line when they say that the Court is acting in a way that is illegitimate,” Alito said. “I don’t think anybody in a position of authority should make that claim lightly. That’s not just ordinary criticism. That’s something very different.”

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