In Alito, G.O.P. Reaps Harvest Planted in '82

NY Times

"We boxed them in," one lawyer present during the strategy meetings said with pride in an interview over the weekend.

In 1982, the year after Mr. Alito first joined the Reagan administration, that movement was little more than the handful of legal scholars who gathered at Yale for the first meeting of the Federalist Society, a newly formed conservative legal group.

Judge Alito's ascent to join Chief Justice Roberts on the court "would have been beyond our best expectations," said Spencer Abraham, one of the society's founders, a former secretary of energy under President Bush and now the chairman of the Committee for Justice, one of many conservative organizations set up to support judicial nominees.

He added, "I don't think we would have put a lot of money on it in a friendly wager."

Judge Alito's confirmation is also the culmination of a disciplined campaign begun by the Reagan administration to seed the lower federal judiciary with like-minded jurists who could reorient the federal courts toward a view of the Constitution much closer to its 18th-century authors' intent, including a much less expansive view of its application to individual rights and federal power. It was a philosophy promulgated by Edwin Meese III, attorney general in the Reagan administration, that became the gospel of the Federalist Society and the nascent conservative legal movement.

Both Mr. Roberts and Mr. Alito were among the cadre of young conservative lawyers attracted to the Reagan administration's Justice Department. And both advanced to the pool of promising young jurists whom strategists like C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel in the first Bush administration and an adviser to the current White House, sought to place throughout the federal judiciary to groom for the highest court.

"It is a Reagan personnel officer's dream come true," said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who worked with Mr. Alito and Mr. Roberts in the Reagan administration. "It is a graduation. These individuals have been in study and preparation for these roles all their professional lives."