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Justice Alito Pays Tribute to Reagan's Influence on His Life

During a speech at library near Simi Valley, the jurist credits the 40th president with shaping his conservative philosophy

September 13, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

The newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court credited the late Ronald Reagan on Tuesday evening with helping shape his conservative view of America when he was a teenager.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., an appointee of the Bush administration, told nearly 500 people gathered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley that he remembered listening to a speech from "Citizen Ronald Reagan" delivered in October 1964.

The speech supporting Sen. Barry Goldwater, called "A Time for Choosing," espoused conservative beliefs, denounced more government spending and supported individual initiative.

At the start, Reagan explained that he had recently switched from being a lifelong Democrat because "I recently have seen fit to follow another course."

As a 14-year-old lying on the floor of his parents' home, Alito said, he found that the speech resonated with him.

"When I thought about the effects that President Reagan has had on my life, interestingly, what came to my mind were not big events but vivid recollections of small things in my life that really marked a turning point," he said. "President Reagan and Mrs. Reagan were an inspiration for me as they were for so many other Americans and, indeed, for people all over the globe."

Alito, who escorted former First Lady Nancy Reagan to her seat in the front row, described his time undergoing the scrutiny of Congress during his confirmation process late last fall as "an out-of-body experience."

"I could not have been more honored or more surprised when President Bush nominated me," he said.

Saying that Reagan "certainly deserved his nickname 'The Great Communicator,' " Alito said the 40th president's greatest legacy was his support of the Constitution "and holding on to the principles that have guided us for two centuries."

"This, I think, is President Reagan's greatest enduring lesson for all Americans, including members of the judiciary.... What really matters is to hold on to those principles included in our founding documents and not be swayed, to not be distracted and not to be blown off course by the prevailing winds of the day," he said.

Alito appeared at the library as part of its continuing lecture series known as the Reagan Forum. Previous speakers included retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, current Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Alito, 56, who replaced O'Connor on the nation's high court, rose through the ranks of the Reagan administration's Justice Department.

He worked from 1985 to 1987 as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel before Reagan appointed him U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush elevated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia. And in January, after a heated partisan battle, Alito was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice.

The day before his appearance at the Reagan Library, Alito visited the campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu, where he attended a rededication of a garden in memory of Tom Burnett, an alumnus aboard United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

He also spoke with students at the university's law school, where one of Alito's friends and former co-workers, Douglas W. Kmiec, is a professor.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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