FedSoc Blog

Justice Alito Praised for His Teaching at Duke Law


by Publius
Posted October 02, 2013, 5:05 PM

Duke Law News reports:

Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. visited Duke Law for a week in late September.  In addition to teaching a seminar titled Current Issues in Constitutional Interpretation to 15 second- and third-year students, Alito shared highlights and insights from his life and career with an overflow student audience during a Sept. 19 “Lives in the Law” conversation with Dean David F. Levi.

“A wonderful teacher”

Shifali Baliga ’14 and Conor Reardon ’14 praised Alito’s collaborative and conversational approach to guiding his students though complex questions of constitutional interpretation during the seven classes they had with him.  An initial discussion of three distinct works on constitutional theory — Justice Antonin Scalia’s A Matter of Interpretation:  Federal Courts and the Law, Justice Stephen Breyer’s Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View, and Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III’s Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance — provided “a framework and foundation” for class discussions that followed, said Baliga.

“Most of our law school classes focus on cases, not foundational works as such,” she said.  “To get to read and discuss these books and these theories was insightful.”  The justice focused subsequent classes on specific themes such as Eighth Amendment and First Amendment cases, and the use of foreign law in U.S. courts.

“Classroom discussion centered around situating the opinions we read within broader constitutional theory, with plenty of talk about how the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches play out in particular cases,” said Reardon who, like Baliga, will begin a federal clerkship following his Duke Law graduation.  “Justice Alito devoted himself chiefly to pointed questioning that pushed us to confront issues that transcend individual controversies: the proper role of theory in deciding constitutional questions, the capacity of various adjudicative approaches to cabin judicial discretion, the appropriate role of the judiciary in a representative democracy. In short, he taught the class like a law professor — and a very good one. I think each of the students left the course with, if not all the answers, a healthy appreciation for the weight and complexity of the questions.”

“The fact that Justice Alito gave us so much latitude to contribute to the class and to express our own thoughts was really interesting,” said Baliga.  “I think he designed the course to help us explore and discover our own views.  I had done that to some extent in my other classes, but this really forced me to think of my own theory of constitutional interpretation and provided a jump start to actually doing that.

“Justice Alito is a wonderful teacher, a wonderful professor,” she added, noting that he remembered each student’s name after their first class.  “He really made an effort to get to know us.  The experience as a whole was humbling.  I never thought I would get to spend seven days with a Supreme Court justice.” . . .

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