Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito used part of the keynote speech on religious liberty he gave last week to joke about the criticisms he received from world leaders for overturning abortion rights in the United States.
Speaking from Rome at an event hosted by Notre Dame Law School, Alito said the abortion rights case prompted “a few second thoughts” on his belief that American judges have no business critiquing other countries’ court rulings.
“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders,” he said, pausing for laughter from the audience, “who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law.”
“One of these was former [British] Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he paid the price,” Alito said mockingly, prompting more laughs. He threw in a legal joke: “Post hoc ergo propter hoc, right?”
Johnson had called the decision a “backwards step.” He recently stepped down over an unrelated string of scandals.
“But others are still in office,” Alito continued. “President [Emmanuel] Macron and Prime Minister Trudeau I believe are two.” Canada’s Justin Trudeau called the decision “horrific,” and the French leader released a statement expressing solidarity with Americans “whose freedoms have today been compromised by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Alito penned the majority opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, reversing the high court’s half-century-old ruling in Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to abortion across the country when it was handed down in 1973. The court’s 6-3 decision in Dobbs sparked mass protests in the U.S. and abroad, as Western nations have generally been moving to increase abortion access.
Refraining from explicitly naming the case in his remarks last week, Alito reserved special derision for Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex.
“What really wounded me, what really wounded me, was when the Duke of Sussex addressed the United Nations and seemed to compare the decision whose name may not be spoken with the Russian attack on Ukraine,” Alito said. Chuckles and groans could be heard across the audience.
Prince Harry gave a speech in mid-July to mark Mandela Day, a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life’s work. He said that “from the horrific war in Ukraine to the rolling back of constitutional rights here in the United States, we are witnessing a global assault on democracy and freedom, the cause of Nelson Mandela’s life.”
Alito went on to assert that “despite this temptation,” he was “not going to talk about cases from other countries.”
While his speech purported to champion religious liberty, he focused almost exclusively on the practice of Christianity. Alito lamented the increasing proportion of Americans who say they do not subscribe to any particular religion. He ended with an antidote to the “gloomy note” his words had taken by praising the spread of Christianity in China, predicting that the country might soon contain more practicing Christians than America.