Remembering Justice Antonin G. Scalia
Justice Scalia visited Seton Hall Law School twice during his career. All who met him appreciated both his brilliance and his generosity
Seton Hall Law faculty pay tribute to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia (1936-2016):
John Coverdale, Professor of Law
During the year I clerked for then-Judge Scalia on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, I came to realize how hard Justice Scalia worked at crafting his opinions and what pride he took in them. I recall his asking me, as I came into Chambers one Saturday morning, whether I had read his most recent FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) opinion. The FERC cases that came to the D.C. Circuit were notoriously technical and dull, but he invited me to read the opinion to see how “even a FERC opinion can sing.”
One of the opinions we worked on involved regulation of the use of "mechanically separated meat" in sausages. The draft we prepared was workmanlike but the published opinion sang. It began, “This case, involving legal requirements for the content and labeling of meat products such as frankfurters, affords a rare opportunity to explore simultaneously both parts of Bismarck's aphorism that ‘No man should see how laws or sausages are made.’" Later in the opinion, Scalia notes: “The fastidious reader will be comforted to know that snouts and ears cannot be included unless the product name contains the phrase 'with variety meats' or 'with by-products.' 9 C.F.R. Sec. 319.180(b). Not so, of course, with liver sausage (liverwurst), where one takes his chances. See 9 C.F.R. Sec. 319.182(b)."
We clerks felt that if an entire paragraph of our draft made it into the published opinion unchanged we had had a very good week. If Scalia didn’t like the structure of a draft, rather than giving it back to us for modification, he often simply wrote a new opinion from scratch. I once told him that he really didn’t have the time to do that. (Actually, I think I told him that the bottleneck in the chambers was his desk not ours). He replied, “You’re right. But I have to have some fun. You guys can’t have all the fun in the office.”
He was a big enough man to be willing to admit when he was wrong. In the course of interviewing clerk candidates for the following year, all three clerks, although very different in personality and outlook, took an instant dislike to one candidate. Although he had a stellar resume, we strongly urged Scalia not to make him an offer. Shortly after Scalia made him an offer, the candidate did something which confirmed our opinion of him. I can still see Scalia standing in the door of our office gesturing like in orchestra conductor and saying, “Okay. Altogether now: ‘We told you so.'” Commentators will undoubtedly debate Scalia’s positions for many years to come. I will remember him less for his legal theories than for being a larger-than-life human being with a great sense of humor and a big heart.
Ronald J. Riccio '71, Professor and Dean Emeritus
Justice Scalia was a good friend to Seton Hall Law School, having visited our Law School at least twice. He also regularly took the time to meet and greet Seton Hall Law students during school-sponsored visits to the Supreme Court. He was always available and affable. When introduced to my wife during one of the visits to the Court he suggested that he, Nino, and she, Nina, as Italian-Americans, must be cousins.
I had the pleasure of spending an entire day with Justice Scalia in the early 90s during one of his visits to our School. He travelled from Washington D.C. that day, in part, to show his great respect for former Congressman Peter Rodino who, at that time, was not in the best of health. That, in itself, tells us something about Justice Scalia's character, a staunch conservative Republican wanting to make a day-long trip to pay homage to a liberal Democratic icon.
At the conclusion of his visit to our School, Justice Scalia asked me where he could rent a car. I immediately offered to drive him myself to wherever he was going, or have the School provide transportation. But, he insisted on renting a car and paying for it himself. So, we walked over to the car rental located near Penn Station.
The attendant at the desk had no idea who the Justice was and, despite several efforts, couldn't figure out how to say or spell "Antonin." The colloquy between Justice Scalia and the attendant over the pronunciation and spelling of his name was worthy of an oral argument before the Court. The attendant wouldn't give an inch, insisting Justice Scalia was not clearly pronouncing or clearly spelling his own name. At that point, Justice Scalia gave up the debate, something that didn't happen very often. He told the attendant to "just write down 'Nino.'"
After the paperwork for the rental was done I asked Justice Scalia where he was going. He told me he was driving out to the tip of Long Island. I told him it would take many hours to drive on a Friday night from Newark to the tip of Long Island, especially on a day that for him began early in D.C. He said he wasn't looking forward to the drive, but wanted to visit his elderly aunt, a person who helped raise him and whom he hadn't seen in awhile.
We all know that Justice Scalia's legacy in the law will be debated for years to come. I'll leave that to the pundits and scholars to assess. For me, Justice Scalia's sense of humor and his willingness to inconvenience himself to show his respect for others is what I will remember most about him.
Edward A. Hartnett, Richard J. Hughes Professor of Law
Justice Scalia’s opinions will long be remembered and discussed in law school classrooms. But his death brings to my mind the time he spoke at Seton Hall’s main campus in South Orange for our Charter Day. I had the good fortune that year to be the Chair of the Charter Day committee. In making arrangements for his visit, I was looking to coordinate his transportation with the United States Marshals Service. He would have none of that, explaining that he would be driving himself and visiting family in Trenton: “Just tell me what exit it is on the Parkway.”
Once here, his speech to the crowd at Charter Day included a story from his days in college at Georgetown. A professor asked him, “What was the most important event in human history?” As a talented history major, he named a series of significant events, none of which satisfied the professor. Finally, the professor provided the answer, “The Incarnation.” This lesson stayed with Justice Scalia, and has stayed with me ever since.
John B. Wefing, Distinguished Professor of New Jersey Law & History
Justice Scalia participated in a full-day program at Seton Hall Law School to celebrate the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights. Five speakers presented papers on different provisions on the Bill of Rights. I wrote a paper on the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. Justice Scalia did not write an article but chose to comment on the papers presented by the others. I criticized Justice Scalia's position on the juvenile death penalty decision -- he upheld the death penalty, which was later overruled. I was the only speaker who criticized him and when he spoke he started by saying, "I will leave alone anyone who left me alone." He then defended his position brilliantly. After the program he said to me, "Great intellectual debate." I always thought he meant, "I beat you."
Amy Newcombe, Assistant Professor of Legal Practice and Director of Appellate Advocacy
I heard Justice Scalia speak once during law school. Given the opportunity to ask him a question, I decided to ask something that my fellow students liked to ask only female attorneys: “How do you balance work and family life?”
He smiled. He shook his head and laughed at himself. Then he confessed to us that he had done a lousy job of striking that balance for many years. When he was a young attorney, he explained, he worked too many hours to be the husband and father he wanted to be. Since being appointed to the Supreme Court, he said, he guarded his Sundays as family time for dinners with his children and grandchildren. We could tell that he savored these days with his extended family. And we got the message that we should learn from his mistake.