Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. came to Philadelphia Thursday to accept a citizenship award honoring the late appellate judge Edward R. Becker, and devoted most of a 35-minute speech at the Community College of Philadelphia to lauding his former colleague.
Alito served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia with Becker before Alito ascended to the Supreme Court in 2006. Democrats voiced concern about Alito's nomination by former President George W. Bush, and, in an unusual move, Becker led a group of seven federal judges to testify in his favor at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings chaired by the late Sen. Arlen Specter.
At the award luncheon, Alito lauded Becker's honed legal scholarship, which he said influenced federal courts nationwide.
But he said Becker, who died in 2006, a few months after the confirmation hearing at age 73, also had great impact outside the courtroom, advocating for causes that benefited the city.
"He lived and breathed this city," Alito said. "He knew it intimately. He was a graduate of elite educational institutions . . . yet when he wanted to summon one of his law clerks, he would call out, 'Yo,'" like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.
Prompting laughter, Alito speculated that all that was needed then was for Becker to hire a female law clerk named Adrian.
Becker, who authored more than 2,000 opinions during his time on the bench, produced prodigious amounts of work, Alito recalled, sometimes attending his children's soccer games with a law clerk who would brief him on cases as he walked along the sidelines.
The award was bestowed by Charles L. Becker, Becker's son, on behalf of CCP's Fox Rothschild Center for Law and Society at the school's campus on Spring Garden Street.
"Around the time I went to law school, my dad began to talk about a judge named Sam," said Becker, a lawyer with the Philadelphia plaintiffs firm of Kline & Specter. "Sam was really smart. Sam was really hardworking. There was one other thing I learned. My dad was really fond of Sam."
Reflecting the high regard for Becker, as well as Alito's lofty status, the room was filled with lawyers, judges, and politicians, including Mayor Nutter, who made brief remarks.
The Judge Edward R. Becker Citizenship Award recognizes prominent citizens for their public service. Past winners include Specter, former U.S. Transportation secretary, civil rights lawyer, and Philadelphia native William T. Coleman Jr., Third Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, and Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.), among others.
Becker was known for his low-key style and his lack of pretension, taking the Frankford El to work every day in the federal courthouse from his home in the Northeast.
"He could have made a fortune in the private sector," Alito said. "He didn't do that. He became a judge and he loved every minute of it."