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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Alito's Day in Court

For the most junior judge in the majority to have been chosen to write the Lobby Hobby decision was no small matter.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito delivered both of the U.S. Supreme Court term's final decisions yesterday.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito delivered both of the U.S. Supreme Court term's final decisions yesterday.

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.