As we have documented, National Review Online's Ed Whelan has strongly disagreed with a commentator who pointed out that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito appeared to employ an "empathy standard" when he disagreed with the eight-justice majority opinion siding with Westboro Baptist Church in a free speech case.
Whelan -- who has harshly criticized President Obama for saying that he would seek a Supreme Court nominee who has the "quality of empathy" and is "dedicated to the rule of law" -- stated that in the Westboro case, Snyder v. Phelps, the difference between the majority decision and the dissent is "a legal one, not a difference between dispassion and empathy." To make that claim, Whelan ignored the fact that in his dissent, Alito devoted more than 1,200 words to a recitation of Westboro's despicable attacks against the plaintiffs in the case, the family of slain Marine Matthew Snyder.
(Whelan subsequently conceded that it is possible that Alito acted out of empathy in the case.)
Now there's more evidence that the long recitation of the facts in Alito's dissent is not strictly about robotically searching for the correct rule of law, and it comes from a decision Alito himself joined.
Today, Alito joined a concurring opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia (the justice for whom Whelan clerked) that attacked the dissenting judges for their lengthy recitation of the case's facts. The opinion said that the dissent's factual recitation was "puzzling" because the question at issue "is a legal one." From the concurring opinion in Connick v. Thompson:
The dissent's lengthy excavation of the trial record is a puzzling exertion. The question presented for our review is whether a municipality is liable for a single Brady violation by one of its prosecutors, even though no pattern or practice of prior violations put the municipality on notice of a need for specific training that would have prevented it. See Brady v. Maryland , 373 U. S. 83 (1963) . That question is a legal one: whether a Brady violation presents one of those rare circumstances we hypothesized in Canton 's footnote 10, in which the need for training in constitutional requirements is so obvious ex ante that the municipality's failure to provide that training amounts to deliberate indifference to constitutional violations. [emphases added]
So Alito himself believes that a "lengthy" recitation of the facts is "puzzling" when the Court is dealing with a legal question. Therefore, it stands to reason that Alito's own lengthy recitation of the facts in Snyder is about something other than just the pure legal question.