The Supreme Court may be releasing controversial decisions all week, but one thing that is indisputably unprofessional is Justice Samuel Alito's behavior during Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's reading of her dissent.
On Monday morning, the Supreme Court decided two cases regarding employment discrimination: Vance v. Ball State University and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar. Alito and Kennedy read respective summaries of their majority opinions, and Ginsburg followed with her joint dissent. When she gave an example of how a female worker is more susceptible to workplace sexual harassment due to the narrow definition of "supervisor" affirmed by the majority, "Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head 'no.'"
Though there is no video documentation of Alito's behavior, the disrespectful demeanor "brought gasps from more than one person in the audience." Familiar observers of the Court Garrett Epps and Dana Milbank both criticized the break of decorum, one classifying the act as a "mini-tantrum," and the other calling him out on his "middle-school gestures."
Of course, this isn't the first time Alito has made the news due to a momentary lack of facial and verbal restraint. His most well known breach was during the 2010 State of the Union address. After President Obama stated that the Supreme Court "reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections," Alito shook his head and mouthed "not true" while the rest of his colleagues maintained an appearance of neutrality.
Matters of policy are emotionally charged, as they should be. Whether it's on voting rights, gay marriage, or employment discrimination, legislation affects real people's lives, and that's something worth being passionate about. Surely, we are all too familiar with injections of disdainful looks and condescending gestures in our passion-driven conversations and debates.
However, as a justice of the highest court in the United States, Alito is held to a higher standard. Someone of his profession and stature does not have the luxury of gestures of mockery, even if they are due to accidental bursts of passion. As a well-educated member of the Court, I expect Alito to state his differences with his colleagues through eloquent, if caustic, words. Anything less would be an unacceptable disgrace to his position and an inappropriate treatment of his colleagues.