The Life of the Party? Only in the 'Grand Old' Sense.

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., left, with his Senate escort Dan Coats, sometimes neglects to unbutton his suit jacket -- causing his tie to poke out.
Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., left, with his Senate escort Dan Coats, sometimes neglects to unbutton his suit jacket -- causing his tie to poke out. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, November 3, 2005

Senators will debate Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito's legal views for months, but this much is settled law: The Senate is witnessing a real-life revenge of the nerd.

Alito, bespectacled, hair askew, suit rumpled and ill-fitting, walked into Sen. Tim Johnson's office this week to pay a courtesy call on the South Dakota Democrat. Sitting in an armchair in the senator's office, Alito forgot to unbutton his suit jacket, causing his tie to stick out and his jacket to bunch up. The judge's pant leg hiked up as he sat, revealing an untied shoelace.

"Ever been to South Dakota?" Johnson asked.

"No," Alito replied, adding quickly, "but I've always wanted to."

Alito's professed desire to see the Badlands -- evoking images of the robed jurist on a cattle drive -- would not have been easy to predict from his background.

We know from published profiles of the judge this week that in high school, valedictorian Alito ran track, played trumpet in the band, and was editor of the school paper and a member of the state-finalist debate team. At Princeton, he skipped the selective eating clubs to join Stevenson Hall, known as a haven for dweebs.

At Yale Law School, he was the wonk whose notes other students borrowed. "Quiet," "shy" and "reserved" are the words law-school friend Dennis Grzezinski provided to The Post's Laura Blumenfeld. When it came to the party scene, "Sam could well have been the designated driver."

In recent years, Alito insisted on wearing a baseball uniform while coaching Little League. As an appellate judge, he hung in his chambers a large poster of former Philadelphia Phillies baseball star Mike Schmidt. He went to baseball fantasy camp and had a baseball card made of himself.

Are these not the marks of a nerd? The question was put to Dan Coats, the former senator who is chaperoning Alito through the Senate confirmation process.

"I'm not going to affirm that," Coats said. "I'll just say he's a serious student of the law."

Okay, but what about a fortysomething guy wearing Little League stirrups? "I admire somebody who can take off the robe and put on a baseball uniform," Coats posited gamely.

Washington is a town of geeks and misfits who, for the most part, suppress their inner dorks much of the time. But Alito wears this status on his sleeve: Leaving the cloistered courtroom, he emerges, blinking, into the sunlight.


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