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Utahn hails Alito's apolitical opinions

Huntsman's counsel once clerked for court nominee

Along with an extensive judicial record and an amiable personality, critics of President Bush's new Supreme Court nominee may have to deal with Zeus.

That would be Judge Samuel Alito's pet springer spaniel, not the Greek god, although it's an animal that can still cause some havoc, said Mike Lee, general counsel for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who served as a law clerk for Alito for a year in 1998-99.

"I remember Zeus running through the office while we were drafting these complicated opinions," Lee said.

Alito was nominated Monday by Bush after serving 15 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District, which is based in Philadelphia. Alito is the most experienced nominee in more than seven decades and also has served as assistant to the solicitor general for President Ronald Reagan and U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

The Yale Law School graduate has a large volume of opinions that senators can analyze, something that Lee said will be a benefit for Alito. Lee said Alito is not a judge who rules based on political idealogy but by his interpretation of law.

"The only thing that anyone could say is that they might have reached a different conclusion, not that any part of the decision was wrong or politically motivated," Lee said. "If you go through his record, you will find flawless judicial opinions."

Lee said that Alito, who is being applauded loudly by political conservatives, is a legal conservative who believes in limited judicial power.

"The judicial conservative's only goal is to keep in mind the necessary limited role of the judiciary," Lee said. "Their role is to say what the law is, not what the law should be or how it should be changed."

Aside from his legal intellect, Alito is widely considered humble and nice, which Lee said is a reputation well-deserved. While serving as a clerk, he often saw the way in which Alito would craft his opinions so as to not disparage anyone, even those on the other side of his opinion.

"He's very nice, very genuine," Lee said. "If you could create an index that took into account one's qualifications and one's ego, he would be off the charts for both — absolutely minimum ego and maximum qualifications."


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com