It didn't take long for James Killmond '87, who clerked for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, to notice the judge's dedication to precedent, a quality Killmond said makes Alito an excellent choice for the Supreme Court.
Killmond worked for Alito from 1999 to 2000 while the judge sat on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Judges are bound and have to obey precedent set by the Supreme Court and federal laws passed by the Congress," Killmond said, noting that Alito's 15-year record demonstrates his respect for this responsibility.
"I think that if you read these cases, it's pretty clear that here's a person who's honestly and fairly engaging the existing law to make these decisions. It's not something coming from what he thinks," Killmond said.
While Killmond said that in certain cases of "first impression," where the Supreme Court has not ruled on an issue, a judge's own impressions about a law or the Constitution come into play, he has faith that Alito would judge according to his interpretation of the law and not his personal ideology.
"He's not writing about the way he thinks things should be, he thinks it's his job to be a judge and not a legislator," Killmond said.
Killmond noted, however, that this ideal is not always easy, citing the example of Alito's dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the judge supported a Pennsylvania law requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses.
"He was trying to decide what the language 'undue burden' meant, what those words mean, and how do those words guide a judge to decide if that abortion restriction is enough," Killmond said, referring to the Supreme Court ruling that only allows abortion restrictions that do not put "undue burden" on the woman seeking an abortion.
Abortion is one area in which Alito, a Catholic, has come under fire, especially since his mother recently told the press, "Of course he's against abortion."
Killmond, however, believes that Alito would rule judiciously in abortion cases.
"Abortion is not an area where there's a lot of room for cases with first impression. There's been a lot of cases on abortion, so there's a lot of existing law," he said. "I think that he would approach cases on a controversial topic like abortion the same way he would approach any other case, and that is to take the existing law and apply it as fairly as he can."
While at Dartmouth, Killmond was an English major and a member of the Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity. He joined the army and went to business school before graduating from Columbia Law School in 1999. Now an associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles, Killmond says that he recommends the experience of clerking to anyone interested in the study of law.
"I had probably the best year of my life," he said. "Professionally, anyway."