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Justice Scalia is celebrated for his intellect, wit, and faith

More than three hundred family members, former law clerks, Supreme Court justices, and other legal professionals and admirers gathered to honor the late Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday.

Eugene Scalia, the late Justice’s eldest son, told those assembled at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington that the memorial service was a chance to “hear some words in tribute to my father’s life,” something that was largely left out of Justice Scalia’s February 20 funeral Mass, which the family kept focused on the rites of the Catholic Church.

Justice Clarence Thomas recalled “constant chats” with Scalia while walking back to their chambers after oral arguments or the Justices’ private conference.

“Those very brief visits usually involved more laughter than anything else,” Thomas said. “A joke. A funny word. … And there were many ‘buck each other up visits.’ Too many to count.”

Thomas said he loved “the satisfaction and eagerness in his voice when he finished a writing with which he was particularly pleased.”

“‘Clarence, you have got to hear this,’” Scalia would tell him. “‘This is really good.’ Whereupon he would deliver a dramatic reading, after fumbling with his computer for awhile.”Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed genuine appreciation for the draft dissent Scalia delivered to her privately, before circulating it to the conference, in the 1996 case of United States v. Virginia Military Institute.

Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion striking down Virginia’s exclusion of women from VMI, with Justice Scalia the lone dissenter. In his draft dissent, Scalia took the draft majority opinion to task for, among other things, referring to “the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.”

“There is no University of Virginia at Charlottesville,” Scalia wrote in a “disdainful footnote,” Ginsburg said. “There is only the University of Virginia.”

“My final draft was much improved thanks to Justice Scalia’s searing criticism,” Ginsburg said.

“I will miss the challenges and the laughter he provoked [and] his pungent, eminently quotable opinions, so clearly stated that the words never slipped from the reader’s grasp,” Ginsburg said.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and the other members of the Court also attended.

Senior Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit spoke of his decades-long friendship with Scalia, which included constitutional crises during the Nixon administration, service together on the appeals court, and harrowing high-speed rides with Scalia at the wheel.

Silberman commented on the revelation after Scalia’s death that some advisers to Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas had put Scalia on the short list for the vice-presidential nomination when Dole was the Republican nominee for president in 1996.

Scalia had confided in him at the time, Silberman said, and “I knew that he loved his time on the court, but he could not help but be flattered. If Dole were elected, who knew where the vice presidency might lead to?”

Still, Silberman thought it was time to offer “brutally honest” advice.

“I asked him if he wanted to return to law practice or teaching,” Silberman said. “That took him aback. I explained that I was virtually certain Dole would lose.” (President Bill Clinton was re-elected that year.)

Scalia “declined the offer,” Silberman said.

John S. Manning, a professor at Harvard Law School and one of Justice Scalia’s earliest law clerks, said the justice’s chambers were “a tad raucous,” as Scalia encouraged the clerks to challenge him.

“His openness, his enthusiasm, his clarity, his playfulness, his common sense, his commitment to principle—all of this made even the blandest legal issue vivid and consequential,” said Manning, adding that it was “simply not natural to feel as strongly as he made us feel about” legislative history and arcane legal doctrines.

“He took the boring, mundane, everyday work of the law and showed us what was at stake for a constitutional democracy,” Manning said.

Joan L. Larsen, a Scalia clerk who was named to the Michigan Supreme Court last year, said “the justice was fundamentally a happy man, and it is impossible to remember him without remembering the zeal with which he embraced life.”

“Even when things were not going well for him at the court, he was genuinely upbeat,” she said. “He sang in his chambers, he whistled in the corridors, his sonorous laugh reverberated throughout the courtroom.”

Besides the introduction by Eugene Scalia, and a brief prayer by the Rev. Paul Scalia, the son who presided over his father’s funeral, the memorial gathering heard poignant remarks from two of the late Justice’s daughters, as his wife, Maureen Scalia, and other family members sat in the front row. 

Catherine S. Courtney, the second-oldest daughter, discussed the family’s frequent moves as her father changed cities and jobs before settling the family in Washington.

“He was a poor estimator of travel time, never allowing quite enough time to get to that Latin mass, which was actually 45 minutes away, not 30,” she said. And he would wave his arms at the backyard grill, commanding the hamburgers to “be juicy!”, she recalled.

“I will let the legal world discuss his judicial legacy, but for me one decision stands alone, above all others,” Courtney said. “That was the landmark decision of 1960 to marry Maureen McCarthy. … Anyone who knows my mom knows that she is as smart as, dare I say, smarter than dad.”

Courtney recalled a family trip to Ireland, one where the Justice taught a summer legal seminar in the morning before piling everyone into the car to tour the Emerald Isle in the afternoons.

“What old church are we going to see today, Maureen?” he would ask his wife. Courtney said she was struck on that trip by her father’s “zest for life. Going at full speed, trying to see it all and cram it all in, and all in partnership with Mom.”

Mary Clare Murray, the middle child of the Scalias’ nine children, concluded the service with a discussion of her father’s Catholic faith.

“As a family, we drove however far was necessary to find what dad considered an appropriate liturgy,” Murray said. “Our Sundays in Chicago were especially adventurous. Rather than walking ten minutes to the neighborhood church, Dad drove us thirty minutes to a city church led by Italian priests, whose accents were so thick, I never knew when they were speaking English or Latin.”

“In the many stories that have been published or shared since dad’s death, I’ve continued to grow in my understanding of my father, and in his daily exercise of God’s love, which is what mercy is,” she said. “His ability to form deep, lifelong friendships with people of varying views. His generosity and humility in reaching out to others, to strangers, to people from all walks of life.”

“And now the unbelievable outpouring of love and affection from people throughout the country because of what he symbolized to them,” Murray said. “These are the fruits of my father’s faith. And of God’s mercy through him.”

Recommended Citation: Mark Walsh, Justice Scalia is celebrated for his intellect, wit, and faith, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 1, 2016, 9:01 PM),