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Justice Ginsburg Remembers Scalia: 'Court Is Paler Place Without Him'

By Tracy Schorn

September 23, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Georgetown University. Photo credit: Georgetown University Law CenterAddressing a packed auditorium of first-year Georgetown University Law Center students on the evening of September 7, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reflected on her 23 years of friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Ginsburg said she was there not to speak of Scalia's "jurisprudence, but of his friendship."

One of her fondest memories of Scalia, she said, was an evening they spent at the British ambassador's home with members of the Washington National Opera. Scalia took to the piano with two of the Opera's tenors, dubbing themselves the "Three Tenors," and burst into song. Scalia, Ginsburg recalled, was a "convivial, exuberant performer."

But more than a fellow lover of opera, travel companion, and renown wit, Ginsburg said that Scalia was a "discerning shopper" who once helped her pick out a living room rug. "It's worn very well," added Ginsburg.

Such small intimacies underscored a larger lesson about talking across the aisle and finding commonality among people with whom you disagree.

She quoted Scalia on their friendship as saying, "I attack ideas. I don't attack people. Some very good people have very bad ideas." Ginsburg said she was strengthened by Scalia's "attacks."

She recalled Scalia's lone dissent in United States v. Virginia, over the male-only admission policy at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The dissent "was a real zinger," full of "disdainful footnotes," said Ginsburg. But by handing in his arguments to Ginsburg early, Scalia gave her extra days to respond. (VMI began accepting women cadets in 1997 following the Court's decision.)

Reading Scalia's "searing criticism" allowed Ginsburg to respond to those weaknesses in her arguments, which upon rewriting had the effect of making "my arguments clearer and more convincing." In the end, "it energized me to strengthen the Court's decision."

When they disagreed, Scalia would tell Ginsburg to "get over it." After Bush v. Gore in 2000, Ginsburg recalled the painfully long hours spent writing briefs and arguing the case. After the decision, she got a call in her chambers from Scalia who told her, "Ruth, why are you still at work? Go home and take a hot bath."

"I miss the challenges and the laughter," said Ginsburg. "The Court is a paler place without him."