Justice Alito mocks Prince Harry and other foreign critics of abortion decision

Justices Sotomayor and Barrett appear publicly in bid to show unity.

July 28, 2022, 8:08 PM

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito for the first time publicly addressed critics of his landmark opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, using a speech in Italy to make light of Britain's Prince Harry and other foreign figures who have lamented the rollback of U.S. protections for abortion.

"What really wounded me, what really wounded me, was when the Duke of Sussex addressed the United Nations and seemed to compare the decision -- whose name may not be spoken -- with the Russian attack on Ukraine," Alito said in a sarcastic tone. The decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, was released last month.

Prince Harry had referenced "the rolling back of constitutional rights here in the U.S." as well as war in Ukraine as examples of why 2022 is "a painful year in a painful decade," during a speech July 18 in New York.

Alito also made light of commentary from outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"I had the honor this term of writing I think the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law," he said. "One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he paid the price."

Alito appeared to reference Johnson's recent resignation after a series of scandals in office.

The justice's comments came during a speech July 21 in Rome at a conference on religious liberty hosted by the University of Notre Dame Law School. The appearance was not previously announced by the Court; video of the speech was posted online Thursday.

“It is hard to convince people that religious liberty is worth defending if they don’t think that religion is a good thing that deserves protection,” Alito told the audience. “The challenge for those who want to protect religious liberty in the United States, Europe, and other similar places is to convince people who are not religious that religious liberty is worth special protection. That will not be easy to do.”

The Court's conservative majority delivered significant victories for religious liberty in the most recent term, affirming the right of a public school football coach to pray among students at the 50-yard line; allow a civic group to raise a Christian flag on Boston City Hall flag pole; and, permit Maine families to utilize taxpayer-funded tuition credits for religious schools.

Those decisions, along with major rulings on gun rights, climate policy and immigration, thrust the justices to the center of a divisive and highly-partisan public debate.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the most senior liberal and third woman justice, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the most junior conservative and 5th woman justice, held a rare public conversation Thursday night in what appeared to be at least partly a bid toward lowering the temperature of debate.

In this April 23, 2021, file photo, Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett stands during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Pool/Getty Images, FILE

"We like each other. We really do," Barrett said of her relationship with Sotomayor and her other colleagues. "As is often joked, this is like a marriage. We have life tenure and we get along."

"Fundamentally, they are good people," Sotomayor said of her colleagues.

The pair, appearing together for the first time, spoke as part of the Reagan Institute's Summit on Education in a session moderated by Yale Law professor Akhil Reed Amar. The theme of the event was "An Educated Citizenry."

In this Nov. 30, 2018, file hoto, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses for the court's official portrait in the East Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

"To the extent we can maintain a tone," Barrett said, "I think that in itself has an educative function on civics."

Neither addressed any of the decisions of the past term, even obliquely; but they did lament public misunderstanding of the court and demonization of its members.

"For me, democracy means an informed group of people," Sotomayor said, "because without being informed, you really can't know how to shape, how to live with others."

Organizers of the event said the conversation was pre-taped several weeks ago but aired Thursday for the first time.

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