The Washington Post

Alito dismisses foreign criticism of Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion

- BY ROBERT BARNES Ann E. Marimow contribute­d to this report.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in a speech in Rome dismissed criticism from foreign officials who he said “lambasted” his opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that provided a constituti­onal right to abortion.

Speaking last week at a conference promoting religious liberty, Alito for the first time publicly spoke about the decision he wrote in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizati­on, which he characteri­zed during his remarks as the case “whose name may not be spoken.”

“I had the honor this term of writing I think the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institutio­n that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” Alito said.

“One of these was former [United Kingdom] prime minister Boris Johnson. But he paid the price,” Alito joked, to applause from the crowd. Johnson has been embroiled in scandal and this month announced plans to step down.

Alito spoke July 21 at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, sponsored by the Religious Liberty Initiative at the university’s law school. It was establishe­d in 2020 to promote “religious freedom for people of all faiths through scholarshi­p, events, and the Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic,” which files briefs at the Supreme Court.

Justices often do not divulge their speaking engagement­s in advance, and Alito’s became known Thursday after the law school issued a news release and posted a video of the speech on Youtube.

Alito said he was resisting listing examples from other countries whose defense of religious liberty he found insufficie­nt even though he said foreign leaders — he also mentioned French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — criticized the court’s decision eliminatin­g the federal right to abortion.

The decision sent the regulation of abortion back to the states, and since then a number have greatly restricted the procedure and 11 states have limited abortion after six weeks or effectivel­y banned it, according to abortion rights groups.

The audience laughed at what Alito sarcastica­lly said was the most hurtful criticism, from Britain’s Prince Harry.

“But what really wounded me — what really wounded me — was when the Duke of Sussex addressed the United Nations and seemed to compare the decision whose name may not be spoken with the Russian attack on Ukraine,” Alito said.

Alito in speeches often says religious liberty is not treated as respectful­ly as other constituti­onal rights. But the just-completed Supreme Court term was nothing short of a complete victory for religious groups. Overturnin­g Roe was a longtime goal of religious conservati­ves, but separately the court’s six conservati­ve justices consistent­ly sided with protection of religious faith over concerns about government endorsemen­t of religion.

It ruled for a coach discipline­d by his school board for midfield prayers after games, said Boston was not free to reject a Christian group’s request to fly its flag at city hall for fear it would appear to be an endorsemen­t of religion if other groups are given the privilege, and said Maine cannot bar religious schools from receiving public tuition grants extended to other private schools.

Still, Alito said some see religious faith as akin to other enthusiasm­s, such as support for profession­al sports teams. He questioned whether some of his dissenting colleagues fully grasp the Constituti­on’s protection of religious freedom.

The justice, who the video shows now sports a beard, offered a hypothetic­al about three attorneys entering a court that requires the removal of head coverings: a Jew wearing a kippah, a Muslim wearing a headscarf and a man in a Green Bay Packers hat. As to whether the man with the Packers cap must be accommodat­ed the same as the others, Alito said, “For me, the Constituti­on of the United States provides a clear answer.”

He added: “Some of my colleagues are not so sure. But for me, the text tells the story: the Constituti­on protects the free exercise of religion, it does not support the free exercise of support for the Packers.” Alito did not say why he thought some of his colleagues might disagree.

Alito said for some, protection of religious freedom is shrunk down to the freedom to worship. “When you step outside into the public square, in the light of day, you had better behave yourself like a good secular citizen,” he said.

Alito said protection of religious liberty is also important for free speech and the freedom of assembly. “Religious liberty and other fundamenta­l rights tend to go together,” he said.

The justices have separated after their rancorous session, of which the Dobbs decision was only one that split the court’s conservati­ves and liberals. There are signs the discord remains.

In an address to a judicial conference last week, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said the court’s legitimacy is threatened when longstandi­ng precedent is discarded and the court’s actions are seen as motivated by personnel changes among the justices.

“If, over time, the court loses all connection with the public and the public sentiment, that’s a dangerous thing for democracy,” Kagan said at a conference of judges and lawyers in Montana.

She added: “People are rightly suspicious if one justice leaves the court or dies and another justice takes his or her place and all of sudden the law changes on you.”

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