Justice Alito at the Third Circuit Judicial Conference

The after-dinner speaker at tonight’s opening session of the Third Circuit Judicial Conference in Hershey, PA was Justice Alito, reprising his 2011 appearance.  After being introduced by Chief Judge McKee as “Justice Electron” due to his reputed high-tech abilities, Justice Alito presented a humorous look at judges at all levels with the aid of a Powerpoint presentation that consisted largely of New Yorker and other similar cartoons.  When the Powerpoint occasionally went awry, that added to the humor quotient.

District judges, he said, are the kings of their courtrooms and therefore may think they are kings.  The Circuit Courts, illustrated by one cartoon that showed a court building bearing the motto “A sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on,” take the district judges down a peg when the appellate courts issue reversals  Justice Alito jokingly compared that situation to wolves who surround a helpless doe and then eviscerate her.  “It’s just their nature,” he said.

The Supreme Court, of course, is at the top of the heap.  But Justice Alito and his colleagues were sobered to learn that, when surveyed, more Americans could name two of Disney’s seven dwarfs than could identify two U.S. Supreme Court Justices.  That provided a sense of the Justices’ true importance in the big scheme of things.

Justice Alito also provided some humorous “inside baseball” as to how the Supreme Court works.  With 55 days left in the current Term, the Court still has 32 cases left to decide.  “You might ask, ‘then why is he here tonight?'” he said.  The Justices have internal deadlines– May 31 for majority opinions and June 15 for concurrences and dissents.  Justice Alito said it brings back memories of his school days, frantically finishing written assignments and slipping them under professors’ doors late on the day they were due.  He told a story, perhaps an apocryphal one, about Justice White, who allegedly would take notice of the filing date of any Supreme Court opinion involved in a case.  Any decision issued in May or June, the story goes, Justice White would discount, since he had “seen how the sausage was made” in those two months.

There was, of course, plenty more.  It was a pleasant finish to today’s kickoff of the Conference.