Remembering Scalia

When I first heard that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died I thought I must have misread. A Supreme Court justice passing away unexpectedly on the eve of a particularly volatile Presidential election cycle?

That’s the stuff Aaron Sorkin dramas are made of. Not real life.

This election cycle would make a great Aaron Sorkin drama.

After news of his death, it didn’t take long for the political pageantry to start. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell quickly announced that the next president should appoint Justice Scalia’s replacement.

Supreme Court sessions typically run October – June, so delaying an appointment until after the start of 2017 would almost certainly mean not having a ninth Justice confirmed until the end of the next session.

Of course, President Obama was also quick to act, parrying McConnell’s announcement with his own declaration: I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time.

If this is an Aaron Sorkin drama, perhaps we can get Edward James Olmos on the bench.

But, political posturing aside, the loss of this conservative giant has raised intriguing questions about the rule of law in a polarized nation and collegiality across political lines.

Justice Scalia had a notoriously positive friendship with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – so much so that there’s apparently a comic opera about it.

They disagreed ardently, fervently, irrevocably, yet still they found space to genuinely get along.

Ginsburg once explained this friendship, saying, “As annoyed as you might be about his zinging dissent, he’s so utterly charming, so amusing, so sometimes outrageous, you can’t help but say, ‘I’m glad that he’s my friend or he’s my colleague.’ ”

I once has the pleasure of hearing Justice Scalia speak. I utterly disagree with nearly all his opinions, yet I was struck by – what I can only describe as intellectual charisma. He was so bombastic in his beliefs yet well-reasoned in his arguments, it was hard not to pay him some measure of respect.

At the end of his talk, he took questions from the floor. I saw student after student get up with well-prepared questions and commentary ready. Scalia handily took each and every one of them down.

Not through the artful dodging that we’ve grown familiar seeing from politicians, but with clever, sharpened responses and wit. He out-argued them all.

I imagine that arguing with him would be like arguing with Socrates: I myself might be likely to conclude simply stammering, “well, you’re wrong and your stupid,” yet the opportunity to debate might be worthy in itself.

Ginsburg certainly seemed to think so. Possessed, I imagine, with equal skills of argument and rhetoric, Ginsburg once remarked of Scalia:

“My opinion is ever so much better because of his stinging dissent.”


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