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Judge Alito mocks foreign critics of abortion repeal


Justice Samuel Alito mocked criticism from foreign leaders of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the constitutional right to abortion in his first public comments since last month’s ruling. The judge’s remarks drew more criticism as well as some support.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Samuel Alito mocked criticism from foreign leaders of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the constitutional right to abortion in his first public comments since last month’s ruling. The judge’s remarks drew more criticism as well as some support.

Speaking at a religious freedom summit in Rome, the 72-year-old Alito devoted just a couple of minutes to the topic of abortion before discussing his foreign critics, an unusual move for a high court judge.

Dressed in a tuxedo and sporting a beard that he sometimes grows when the trial isn’t over, Alito quipped that the ruling he wrote had been “criticized by a whole host of foreign leaders,” then joked that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ” paid.” price” for his comments. Johnson called the decision a “big step backwards” shortly before resigning amid unrelated ethics investigations.

The decision by the court’s conservative majority led to about a dozen states closing down or severely restricting abortion within days. Eventually, half of the US states are expected to ban or severely restrict the procedure.

Alito also drew laughs from the audience at a conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame Law School when he said that “the thing that really hurt me” was the comments made by Britain’s Prince Harry. Speaking before the United Nations last week, Harry spoke of the “abolition of constitutional rights here in the United States” as one of a series of concurrent crises that also included Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also drew Alito’s attention in a speech he gave in Rome on July 21 at an invitation-only event. The law school released a video this week. Alito has not been identified in advance as a speaker at the conference.

Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trudeau’s spokeswoman, Cecily Roy, said he would “always stand up for women’s constitutional rights — including the right to choose and access to abortion.”

While judges routinely engage in heated exchanges with their peers, they rarely respond to outside critics. That’s especially true when it comes to foreign leaders speaking outside the United States, said Neil Siegel, a professor of law and political science at Duke Law School.

“His tone can be quite dismissive and caustic. As if he simply does not care that there are tens of millions of people in our country and abroad who categorically disagree with him,” he said. “I think the most important thing is that our judges should not misbehave.”

However, justices are not prohibited from publicly discussing cases after they are decided, said Akhil Reed Omar, a professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School. Alito’s comments, he said, were not about the underlying issue of abortion, but rather about foreign dignitaries influencing American law without necessarily being well-versed in the subject. For example, Johnson may have sought to divert attention from his domestic problems, Omar said.

“It was a little cheeky of them,” said Omar, who also praised Alito for responding with “a little wit and style.”

The judge’s speech drew criticism Friday from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who tweeted that the remarks were politicized and said they “should alarm someone.”

It’s “ironic” that Alito mocked the international opinion even though he cited 17th- and 18th-century English jurists in the opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade, said Michele Goodwin, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and founding director of the Center for Biotechnology and global health policy. “He himself invested in an ideology from abroad that was quite secretive to do what he did in this decision,” he said.

The speech came amid a sharp rise in the share of Americans who say their trust in the Supreme Court is declining. A poll this week by the Associated Press Center for Public Affairs Research, NORC, found that 43% of Americans have “almost no confidence” in the court, up from just 27% three months ago.

The abortion ruling was one of several seismic decisions this summer, but overturning Roe v. Wade and ending a nearly half-century guarantee of abortion rights had the biggest impact.

It also caused profound changes in other health care, with some doctors refusing to immediately treat serious health problems related to reproductive care for fear of violating the strict ban on abortion.

Alito’s speech focused primarily on praising religious freedom, another area where conservatives have won at the Supreme Court in cases involving tax dollars for religious schools in Maine and a football coach’s right to pray at the 50-yard line.

He has been a judge since 2006, appointed by President George W. Bush.

Four years later, while attending President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Alito was caught on camera saying the words “not true” in response to Obama’s criticism — also unusual — of another landmark conservative-leaning court decision, Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to corporate and union spending on federal election campaigns.

Alito has never addressed the controversy publicly, but it’s clear from the questions he asked when the court heard arguments that he took issue with Obama, saying the ruling overturns a century of law.

Alito never attended another State of the Union address.


Associated Press writer Rob Gillis in Toronto contributed to this report.

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