Chief Justice John Roberts' announcement yesterday that Justice Samuel Alito would deliver both of the Supreme Courtfinal decisions for the term marked a personal triumph for Alito. Thus far, his year at the court had been relatively quiet. He’d for the most part refrained from any dramatic concurrences or dissents -- as though keeping his powder dry for Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the biggest religious-liberty decision in years.
Alito cares deeply about religious liberty issues, a topic about which he wrote important opinions while serving as a judge on U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Yet personal interest in an issue doesn't guarantee a justice the opportunity to write an opinion. Assignments to write opinions are made by the most senior judge in the majority -- and the chief is always by definition most senior. Alito, the most junior judge in the majority, was in principle last in line for the job.