Birthplace: Trento, N.J.
Education: Yale Law School, J.D., 1975; Princeton University, A.B., 1972; Hamilton (N.J.) High School East, graduated 1968.
Family: Married to Martha-Ann Bomgardner, with a son, Philip, 19, who attends college, and a daughter Laura, 17, in high school.
Experience: Worked for U.S. Department of Justice, 1977-1990. Positions included assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, in which he argued 12 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government; deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel; and the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, where he prosecuted white-collar and environmental crimes, drug trafficking, organized crime, and civil rights violations.
Since 1990, he has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia. Nominee of President George H.W. Bush.
Besides being involved in cases on student religious expression and special education, Judge Alito has had noteworthy rulings in these other areas of school law:
Race and civil rights
Judge Alito joined the 8-4 majority of the full 3rd Circuit court that in 1996 ruled against the Piscataway, N.J., school district’s decision to lay off a white teacher over her black colleague in an action to preserve racial diversity in a high school business education department. Judge Alito joined an opinion that said the race-based decision violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court agreed to review the much-debated case, but the parties settled before oral arguments took place.
In a 1997 case, Judge Alito joined a majority decision that upheld a Delaware school district’s at-large system of electing school board members against a challenge under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the system diluted minority votes. The dissenting judge on the three-member 3rd Circuit panel said the system resulted in the election of few black candidates to the school board.
Sexual abuse of students by school employees
Judge Alito has participated in several cases involving alleged sex abuse of students, and in each he sided with school districts or administrators against claims that they should have prevented such abuse. One such case involved allegations that three Pennsylvania girls, ages 6, 7, and 8, were sexually molested by a school bus driver. Judge Alito joined a three-judge panel that unanimously granted summary judgment to the driver and the private bus company because they were not government parties, and to school officials because they were not deliberately indifferent to the alleged abuse.
Teacher free-speech rights
In 1992, Judge Alito wrote the opinion for a three-judge panel that unanimously rejected a claim by a Pennsylvania teacher that her freedom of speech was violated when she suffered adverse job actions based on her comments in a faculty newsletter that the school’s teachers were being put under stress and had suffered low self-esteem. Judge Alito’s opinion said the teacher’s comments were not on matters of public concern that were protected by the First Amendment.
Student drug testing
In 2000, Judge Alito joined a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel that dismissed a family’s lawsuit against a New Jersey school district over the drug testing of a high school student. A teacher had suspected that the student, based on her classroom behavior, was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Administrators required the student to undergo a blood test and a urinalysis at a medical facility, which proved negative. In rejecting the family’s civil rights suit, the 3rd Circuit panel said that the teacher’s suspicion was reasonable, and that the blood test and urinalysis were not unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment.
SOURCE: Education Week
A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as Samuel Anthony Alito Jr.