Alito's team

The new justice chooses an "architect" of John Ashcroft's post-9/11 policies as one of his first clerks.

By Tim Grieve
Published February 15, 2006 1:42PM (EST)

You don't really need tea leaves to read Samuel Alito: When a man writes that he "personally" believes "very strongly" that the Constitution doesn't protect the right to an abortion, you get a pretty good idea of where he stands on things right there.

But if anyone is still thinking that the newest Supreme Court justice might be something short of the right-wing ideologue that his critics fear he is and his supporters expect him to be, look no further than some of the five law clerks Alito has just hired.

Supreme Court law clerks usually come fresh from law school and a clerkship with a big-name federal appellate judge. But as Charles Lane reports in the Washington Post, Alito's new clerks include Adam Ciongoli, a 37-year-old lawyer for Time Warner who previously served as one of John Ashcroft's "closest confidants" and was an "architect" of post-9/11 policies at the Justice Department. Some of us knew Ciongoli before then, when he was the outspoken leader of fiercely conservative Federalist Society types in our law school class at Georgetown University.

As Lane notes, no Supreme Court clerk in "recent memory" has held such a position in government as senior as Ciongoli's before clerking. Ciongoli's prior work may require him to recuse himself from some of the most important cases that will face the court during his tenure, including a possible appeal from alleged "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla. A Supreme Court spokeswoman tells Lane that there is a "process" in place to check whether clerks have conflicts on particular cases. Of course, given the secrecy that usually shrouds the work inside justice's chambers, we'll probably never know what cases Ciongoli ends up handling for Alito.

But even if Ciongoli recuses himself from cases related to his work for Ashcroft, Alito has a team of fellow travelers ready to do the work instead. Among his other new clerks: Two Brigham Young University graduates who previously clerked for Alito before going on to clerkships with William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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