Huffpost Politics

Justice Alito Jabs Biden, Nursing Years-Old Grudge

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WASHINGTON — His Supreme Court confirmation hearings three years old, Justice Samuel Alito apparently still harbors some hard feelings toward one Democratic questioner at the time.

Alito made several joking references to Vice President-elect Joseph Biden during an after-dinner speech Wednesday, including Biden's withdrawal from the 1988 presidential campaign over plagiarizing parts of a speech from a British politician.

"To coin a phrase, in the spirit of the vice president-elect, you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need," Alito said, an imperfect rendering of a Rolling Stones lyric.

Then, he added, "Did someone say that before?"

A bit later in his talk at an anniversary dinner for the conservative American Spectator magazine, Alito said he was about to quote liberally from a magazine article. "In the spirit of the vice president-elect, I want to honor the copyright laws," Alito said.

What could be the impetus for these comments?

Alito didn't specifically explain, but he recounted questions Biden asked during the Senate Judiciary Committee's consideration of his nomination.

Biden "became quite agitated about my supposed connections with a sinister Princeton University alumni group...that took up virtually his entire time during the first round," Alito said.

The Senate approved his nomination 58-42, although both Biden and President-elect Barack Obama voted against Alito's confirmation.

"When I look at all the evidence before us, Judge Alito's writings, his statements, his judicial records and his opinions, and the little we learned about him in these hearings, I am forced to conclude that he should not serve in the Supreme Court," Biden said in January 2006.

A Biden spokesman did not immediately comment Thursday.

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Alito also described change at the Supreme Court musically.

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist favored standards and light opera. His successor, John Roberts, became the first justice to quote Bob Dylan in a Supreme Court opinion issued earlier this year, Alito said.

"In the space of a generation, we have gone from Irving Berlin to Bob Dylan," he said. "These are the evolving standards of a maturing society."

As for his own musical tastes, Alito said little, although he used song lyrics from James Taylor, Dylan and the Rolling Stones in his talk.

He conceded that as a high school student on New Year's Eve 1967, he sat at home and watched on television as Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians performed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Alito said his parents liked the annual program.

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The economy is on everyone's mind these days, even Roberts'. He has life tenure and an annual salary of more than $200,000.

But he sounded like an everyman this week at arguments in an environmental case over whether energy companies should have to install technology to reduce the number of fish that are killed at older power plants that draw in billions of gallons of water for cooling.

"I mean, maybe the industry could have borne these costs two years ago, but they probably can't today," Roberts said. "Nobody has money in the bank today."