Justice Samuel Alito on Thursday night took aim at Democratic lawmakers over a brief they filed in a recent Second Amendment case, and condemned them for trying to strong-arm the Supreme Court.
In remarks to the Federalist Society Alito slammed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, one of the brief's authors, for floating the prospect of "restructur[ing]" the Court in response to a pro-gun ruling. Alito called the idea "an affront to the Constitution and the rule of law."
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The remarks from 70-year-old justice, nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006, are turning heads: Supreme Court justices rarely trade barbs with politicians, and Alito’s candid comments provided a rare glimpse inside the Court after a contentious election cycle where court-packing was a major issue.
The justice also weighed in on issues from gun rights to the coronavirus, telling the crowd that for many Democrats, the Second Amendment is "the ultimate second-tier constitutional right," and that the sweeping restrictions lawmakers have enacted to battle the coronavirus have revealed their contempt for religious freedom.
"Take a quick look at the Constitution" Alito said. "You will see the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, which protects religious liberty. You will not find a craps clause, or a blackjack clause, or a slot machine clause." The justice was referring to a Nevada law that gave the green light for casinos to open but capped church attendance.
Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse came in for a special rebuke, with Alito singling out a recent brief filed by the senator and four colleagues on a New York City firearms transportation ordinance. Whitehouse and his colleagues said that a pro-gun ruling would further incite the growing movement to "restructure" the Court.
"The senators' brief was extraordinary," Alito added. "I could say something about standards of professional conduct. But the brief involved something even more important. It was an affront to the Constitution and the rule of law."