By Kate Samuelson
April 21, 2017

Justice Samuel Alito revealed he used to have a rather unusual decision making process that involved his late springer spaniel, Zeus.

Speaking to D. Brooks Smith, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in a conversation reported on by the Wall Street Journal, Alito revealed that he used to “test out” ideas on his dog, before he passed away. “Late at night when I was thinking about cases I would test out my ideas with Zeus. He generally agreed with me,” he said.

Alito also revealed that if he was stuck on a particularly difficult case, he had a “special way” of making a decision. “I put the red [respondent’s] brief over here and the blue [petitioner’s] brief over there, equal distance from Zeus, and I’d put a few dog treats on both. Then I would let Zeus go,” he said. “If he went to blue brief, then we would reverse.”

At a lunch meeting at the Roger Williams University School of Law in 2012, Alito joked that he had used that process to help him come to a decision in the 2010 case of U.S. v. Stevens, leading him to be the sole dissenter. In the case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

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