A friendship that has been memorialized in an opera and a widely shared picture of an elephant has now officially received an award. In a short ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, President James Mullen of Allegheny College awarded the school’s 2017 Prize for Civility in Public Life to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and posthumously to Justice Antonin Scalia.
Mullen called the honor “particularly timely” for newly sworn in Justice Neil Gorsuch, because the “example set by our two recipients will afford him most elegant testimony to the collegial spirit that has supported the Supreme Court for over two centuries.”
Although Ginsburg did not address any comments to her new colleague, she opened her remarks by insisting that “collegiality really matters” in order for the court to accomplish the important work assigned to it by the Constitution. She noted that the justices greet one another with a handshake before each argument day and conference morning as a sign of this collegiality. Gorsuch’s first conference will be on Thursday, and his first argument will come next Monday.
A line from a duet Ginsburg’s character sings with Scalia in their eponymous opera, which Ginsburg recited, seemed to offer a welcoming gesture to the junior justice:
Separate strands unite in frictionTo protect our country’s core.This, the strength of our nation,Thus is our Court’s design:We are kindred,We are nine.
Ginsburg did remind the audience that the Senate confirmed her nomination in a 96-3 vote in a process she called “altogether civil,” and that Scalia was unanimously confirmed. Although she did not mention the most recent confirmation explicitly, she hoped members of Congress would take note.
For his part, Scalia’s son, Eugene, in accepting the award, joked that it was the first his father ever received for “civility,” which Eugene surmised is “not the first word that rolls off the tongue of lawyers who appeared before him.”
Eugene Scalia further remarked that the friendship between the two justices was really one of couples, and he recalled many New Years Eves spent with his father, his mother, who was in the audience, Ginsburg and her late husband, Marty Ginsburg.