I knew Sam Alito, Sr. – a Vivid Contrast to his Son

As controversy hangs over US Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito, Jr., like a thick vapor, I cannot help but think about his father, Sam Alito, Sr.  (1914-1987).  I knew the father and admired him greatly.  Indeed, he was a most significant figure in the annals of New Jersey government and politics.  Here, I use the word “significant” in a most positive manner and “politics” in a nonpartisan and bipartisan sense.

Sam Alito, Sr. was the first Director of the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, better known by the initials, “OLS.”  He held this position from 1952 until 1984.   Under his leadership, OLS became the most outstanding legislative office of its type in America.

One can learn about the wide scope of OLS activity by reading its description in the New Jersey Legislature web site.  Among the numerous functions of OLS, the most salient are 1) the drafting of all bills and resolutions introduced into the legislature; 2) general, legal, and fiscal research; and 3) legal opinions.

Born in Calabria, Italy, Sam Alito, Sr. was the quintessence of the American dream.  He came to America as a child, earned a Master’s degree at Rutgers and taught high school before arriving at OLS.

As nonpartisan employees of the Legislature, members of the OLS staff are prohibited from engaging in political activity or taking a public position regarding any matter before the Legislature.  Sam Alito, Sr.  faithfully complied with this mandate.  In fact, he was described  as being obsessive about avoiding any perception of partisanship in his office.

Accordingly, Sam Alito Senior could and would, in private conversation, give you a brilliant analysis of an election or a current political development.  He would never, however, publicly or privately, advocate for the election of any candidate.

Overall, as OLS Director, Sam Alito, Sr. had a stellar reputation.  He was described as a human encyclopedia of state demographics and legislative history.

I was first introduced to Sam Alito, Sr. by former Democratic Assemblyman Marty Herman in 1977.  Marty would later become a New Jersey Superior Court Judge in 1986.

I have been somewhat remiss in not informing my readers all these years about my relationship with Marty.  My readers know about my predilection for sports analogies, so let me put it this way:  My all-time favorite baseball manager, Leo Durocher used to call former St. Louis Cardinal and Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey,” the big man in my life.”  Marty Herman was the big man in my legal and political careers.  So let me digress for a few minutes in describing my history with Marty.

I first came to work with the Woodbury law firm of Herman, Pearson, and Crass, of which Marty was the senior partner, in July, 1977, after completing my three-year tour of duty as a lieutenant in the US Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  At the time Marty hired me, I was a highly partisan Republican, while Marty was a leading New Jersey Democrat, serving in the second of his six terms in the New Jersey Assembly.  I had to disclose that to him, but Marty responded that it would be no problem.  He did not require associates in his law firm to share his political views.

Marty also made no grandiose promises in terms of future compensation.  Instead, he said, “the one thing I promise you is an education.”  And the education I would receive from Marty was invaluable in my future political career as well as my service as a lawyer.  If I was sitting in his office with him and he received a sensitive phone call on a political matter, even from Governor Byrne’s office, he would tell me to remain.   Watching and listening to Marty in those phone calls was truly observing a legislative and political master at work.

Another Steinberg sports analogy – Marty was reminiscent of my all- time favorite NFL coach, Vince Lombardi.   Yes, like Vince, he was a tough taskmaster, because he always wanted you to perform at the very best of your ability.  He genuinely cared about his employees, however, and my life was better for the experience of working for Marty Herman.

He also was one of the top five legislators I observed in my nearly fifty years in following the New Jersey Legislature.  His successful sponsorship of the New Jersey Generic Drug Law in 1977 was a model for the nation.  Later, in 1979, as chair of the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee, he would produce a revision of the New Jersey Criminal Code and the Juvenile Justice Code.

I can say proudly that I am not the only Trenton political player who benefitted from the tutelage of Marty Herman.  Two of his legislative aides, Sharon Harrington and Karin Elkis, went on to highly successful careers in both the state governmental and lobbying sectors.  The three of us can be described as the Marty Herman Alumni Association.

So one day in August, 1977, Marty stopped by my office and said, “I want you to have lunch with me and a very major figure in the Legislature, Sam Alito.”  We proceeded next door to lunch with Sam Alito, Senior, and during that introductory meeting, I was to learn that Sam Alito, Senior was a genius not only at policy but politics as well.

Sam gave us his assessment of the status of the then governor’s race between Democratic incumbent Governor Brendan Byrne and his Republican challenger Ray Bateman.  Throughout his discussion, he was most careful to comply with his OLS nonpartisan mandate and advocate for neither candidate.  Three months later on Election Day 1977, Sam’s August assessment proved to be remarkably prescient.

After that August, 1977 meeting, Sam would stop by my office whenever he was in Woodbury to meet with Marty.  I treasured the opportunity to discuss New Jersey policy and political issues with Sam.  He was truly a beloved figure by political and policy players of both parties.

When Sam’s son, Sam Alito, Jr.  was nominated by President George W. Bush to the US Supreme Court in November, 2005, he subsequently prior to his confirmation hearings had discussions with Senators  in which he cited his  father as a role model!  Specifically, he described his father’s drafting of a legislative reapportionment plan to comply with the Supreme Court “one man, one vote” mandate.  He also emphasized his father’s efforts in college to defend a black basketball player from discrimination on the team.  He also pointed to his father as a model of bipartisanship.

Yet in terms of maintaining the appearance of nonpartisanship, a vital function for a Supreme Court Justice, Sam Alito, Jr. has been an abject failure.  On the immunity issue, Alito and Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch, comprising the Trumpist Gang of Four, appear hell-bent on granting a right of immunity to authoritarian Donald Trump that appears nowhere in the Constitution.

The immunity efforts of Alito, Jr.  and his fellow members of the Trumpist Gang of Four prove them to be total frauds when they claim to be judicial conservatives.  The basic idea behind judicial conservatism is to avoid legislating from the bench.  Granting Trump an immunity that appears nowhere in the Constitution would be the ultimate act of legislating from the bench.  This grant of immunity to Trump would be a violation of both the Textualist conservatism of Antonin Scalia and the Originalist conservatism of Robert Bork.

Samuel Alito, Senior was a man of total goodness and greatness, and his professionalism of OLS was a major enhancement of New Jersey democracy.  If Sam Alito, Junior gives Trump the immunity he seeks, he will be enabling Trump to threaten American democracy.  We can only hope that Alito Junior thinks of the magnificent legacy of his father and changes his mind on the immunity issue before the decision is finalized.

Alan J. Steinberg of Highland Park served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He graduated from Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin Law School.

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11 responses to “I knew Sam Alito, Sr. – a Vivid Contrast to his Son”

  1. The supreme court “gang of four Trumpists.” Really?

    No mention of the supreme court “gang of liberal, socialists”, judges who dispise the US constitution, hate the US and advocate only for damaging liberal policies, namely Kagen, Sotomayor, Brown.

    More biased, one sided, long winded opinion from liberal Steinberg who endlessly attempts to sound intellectual.

  2. Interesting, informative , insightful column that only
    Alan Steinberg could write with his extension political background.

    Peter Z ……Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but your last sentence says more about you than the columnist. It makes you sound petty and
    mean-spirited.

    Dan Grant….don’t know Peter Z, consider yourself lucky.

    Alan Steinberg…..It was an honor and a pleasure to read your column. Thank you sincerely.

  3. Good Morning, Mr. Steinberg,
    Thank you for another thoughtful piece. I wish POTUS 43’s EPA Director Governor Christie Todd Whitman had consulted with you before telling the world that the air at the WTC Recovery Site was safe to breath. I worked there for three months, as a senior Non-Com and I now have asthma and thyroid cancer. Thank you also for your service to our Country as a Jag Officer, Sir.

    Thank you very much for calling out the hypocrisy of the 4 conservative Justices. I was on vacation in Maine when your former boss tapped Judge Roberts for the Supreme Court. To me this was President Bush’s best accomplishment. I am cautiously optimistic that he and Justice Barrett will find a way to craft a majority opinion that says Trump (or any President) does not have absolute immunity for every action -even personal actions – done while holding that office. It is thoughtful conservatives like you, Senator Romney, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and Mr. Meadow’s staffer, Ms. Hutchinson, and former Governor Chris Christie, that heroically hold the Narcissist Trump accountable for his crimes.

  4. Steinberg is an anti-Trump RINO. He claims to be Republican, but he’s nothing more than a leftist that has Trump Derangement Syndrome. He’s off his meds again, blaming the current conservative Supreme Court for the ills of society. NO, STEINBERG, YOU DOLT!!!!! The ills of society have been created by the Marxist-Democrats in D.C. and Trenton. Look at the 3 Left-wing morons you have on the Supreme Court, e.g., Kagan, Sotomayor & Jackson. Jackson doesn’t know what a “woman” is. She also said that the 1st Amendment is a hinderance to government. That comment alone is scary as hell from someone in power.

    Then you have Sotomayor whose intelligence on the 2nd Amendment is completely bereft, specifically the “bump stock” issue she claims is creating machine guns. Not even close. She is totally ignorant of the 2nd Amendment, what a semi-automatic rifle is versus an automatic rifle (or machine-gun) is.

    Then you have Kagan who railed against the Dobbs abortion case overturning Roe v. Wade. She claimed the Court needed to stick to “precedent”. Yeah, right! Only when the issue negatively affects the Left-wing, Marxists in power. Left-wing/Liberal Justices scream precedent when a case is negatively affecting them. Then they try and force the argument that the Constitution is an evolving document that can be changed on a whim for betterment of Leftist-Marxist society. As South Carolina v. U.S. said, the Constitution means what it says and says what it means. It is NOT an evolving document.

    Steinberg’s tome above is nothing more than his usual propaganda piece for the Communist Pravda.

  5. Thank you, Alan, for another thoughtful column. It is a shame that Alito, Jr. does not share the objectivity and non-partisanship of his father. During my years working in Trenton, I developed great respect for the talents and work product of OLS staffers. I was pleasantly surprised to hear of your work history with Marty Herman, another great legislator and and Judge who was knowledgeable and fair. I always enjoy your columns.

  6. My AI thinks Peter Z. lived nearby Al “Reds” Pontani.
    The Reds on American Mafia. Com

  7. Sad to see Trump has not only bullied many elected republican officials but he has now bullied a Supreme Court Justice. Also… to fly the American Flag upside down is indefensible. He can blame his wife , the neighbor or even the boogey man but ultimately HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS.

  8. Thomas Jefferson is sadly pretty typical of Trump supporters. Bereft of civility, facts, and preferring to parrot talking points with ridiculous use of terms like Marxist to critical thinking or just plain common sense. His level of discourse stands in stark contrast to the author of the article. You can be both angry and civil Mr whoever you are. Then you can sign your real name to it.

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