In the spring of 1985, a 35-year-old lawyer in the Justice Department, Samuel A. Alito Jr., cautioned the Reagan administration against mounting a frontal assault on Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that declared a constitutional right to abortion. The Supreme Court was not ready to overturn it, he said, so urging it to do so could backfire.
In a memo offering advice on two pending cases that challenged state laws regulating abortion, Mr. Alito advocated focusing on a more incremental argument: The court should uphold the regulations as reasonable. That strategy would “advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime, of mitigating its effects.”
More than three decades later, Justice Alito has fulfilled that vision, cementing his place in history as the author of a consequential ruling overturning Roe, along with a 1992 precedent that reaffirmed that decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The reversal means tens of millions of women in conservative-controlled states are losing access to abortion.
The move has cast a spotlight on a man who has otherwise been a lower-profile member of the court’s conservative bloc since his appointment by President George W. Bush more than a decade ago. It has also drawn attention to glimpses of how he slowly and patiently sought to chip away at abortion rights throughout his career before demolishing them in the majority opinion on Friday.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Alito wrote. “Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.” [Continue reading…]