Eulogy for Justice Antonin Scalia
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
March 1, 2016 – Mayflower Hotel, Washington DC
In my treasure trove of memories, an early June morning, 1996. I was about to leave the Court to attend the Second Circuit Judicial Conference at Lake George. Justice Scalia entered, papers in his hand. Tossing many pages on my desk, he said: “Ruth, this is the penultimate draft of my dissent in the VMI [Virginia Military Institute] case. It’s not yet in shape to circulate to the Court, but I want to give you as much time as I can to answer it.” On the plane to Albany, I read the dissent. It was a zinger, [laughter] of the “this wolf comes as a wolf” variety. (shuffling papers) I can’t miss this page, because it’s too good. [laughter] This is very strange—I have every other page in here. It must be in the bag that I…. Well, anyway, it was “this wolf comes as a wolf” variety, and it took me to task on things large and small. Among the disdainful footnotes: [laughter] “The Court refers to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. There is no University of Virginia at Charlottesville [laughter], there is only the University of Virginia.” [laughter] I wonder, Professor Christopher, would your dad say the same today? Thinking about fitting responses consumed my weekend, but I was glad to have the extra days to adjust the Court’s opinion. My final draft was much improved thanks to Justice Scalia’s searing criticism. [laughter]
Another indelible memory, the day the Court decided Bush v. Gore, December 12, 2000. I was in chambers, exhausted after the marathon: review granted Saturday, briefs filed Sunday, oral argument Monday, and opinions completed and released Tuesday. No surprise, Justice Scalia and I were on opposite sides.
The Court did the right thing, he had no doubt. I disagreed and explained why in a dissenting opinion. Around 9:00 p.m. the telephone, my direct line, rang. It was Justice Scalia. He didn’t say “Get over it.” [laughter] Instead, he asked, “Ruth, why are you still at the Court? Go home and take a hot bath.” Good advice I promptly followed.
Among my favorite Scalia stories—when President Clinton was mulling over his first nomination to the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia was asked: “If you were stranded on a desert island with your new Court colleague, who would you prefer, Larry Tribe or Mario Cuomo?” Scalia answered quickly and distinctly: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” [laughter and applause] And within days, the President chose me.
Among Justice Scalia’s many talents, he was a discerning shopper. In Agra, together in 1994, our driver took us to his friend’s carpet shop. One rug after another was tossed onto the floor, leaving me without a clue which to choose. Nino pointed to one he thought Maureen would like for their beach house in North Carolina. I picked the same design, in a different color. It has worn very well.
Once asked how we could be friends, given our disagreement on lots of things, Justice Scalia answered: “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas. [laughter] And if you can’t separate the two, you gotta get another day job. You don’t want to be a judge, at least not a judge on a multi-member panel.” Well known illustration: Justice Scalia was very fond of Justice Brennan, as Justice Brennan was of Justice Scalia.
I will miss the challenges and the laughter he provoked, his pungent, eminently quotable opinions, so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp, the roses he brought me on my birthday, the chance to appear with him once more as supernumeraries at the opera. In his preface to the libretto to the opera buffo Scalia/Ginsburg, Justice Scalia described as the peak of his days in DC, an evening in 2009 at the Opera Ball at the British Ambassador’s Residence, when he joined two National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. [laughter]
He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. How blessed I was to have a working colleague and dear friend of such captivating brilliance, high spirits, and quick wit. In the words of a duet for tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg, we were different, yes, in our interpretation of written texts, yet one in our reverence for the Court and its place in the U.S. system of governance.