Scalia’s unlikely friend

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia has stirred a partisan debate over whether or not a new justice should be nominated and confirmed this year, since it’s an election year. This debate has increased attacks from both major parties in the election cycle and the U.S. Congress. It has become a national topic of discussion, with President Obama promising to nominate a replacement and Republicans in the Senate promising to block the confirmation.

However, it is ironic that while Justice Scalia’s death has led to a furthering of elite polarization and attacks from both parties, the recently deceased justice was actually one of the few people left in Washington capable of respecting the views and ideals of those he disagreed with. This was most evidenced by the famous friendship between Justices Scalia and Ruth Ginsburg.

The friendship between the two justices was as famous as it was unlikely. Justice Scalia was often described as the voice of the court’s conservative wing, while Justice Ginsburg had the same role for the court’s left. Despite this, the two shared a strong friendship, known for public pictures of the two on vacations, spending every New Year’s Eve together, and a mutual love of opera. But the friendship was not just two people putting aside their political differences to spend time together. It was two ideologically different people who respected each other’s ideals, arguments, and intentions despite their lack of agreement, which seems truly unheard of in today’s political world.

When asked last year about his opinions of Justice Ginsburg, Scalia stated bluntly, “she’s a very nice person. What’s not to like? Except her views on the law.” This statement could be interpreted as a dismissal of Ginsburg’s views, but it was clear from their friendship that that was not the case. In Ginsburg’s recent tribute following Scalia’s death, she stated that their mutual respect actually caused their disagreements to strengthen both of their writings and arguments. Ginsburg stated in her tribute that Scalia “nailed all the weak spots and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion” when she would write for the Supreme Court.

There were other instances of Justice Scalia showing respect and appreciation for all views. According to former Presidential Advisor David Axelrod, the justice gave a surprising suggestion when Justice Souter retired in 2009 and President Obama was looking to nominate a replacement. Scalia said to Axelrod that he did not expect the President to nominate a judge who shared his legal views, and that he only asked they send “someone smart.” Later in the conversation, he more bluntly stated “I hope he sends us Elena Kagan.” The liberal then-Solicitor General Kagan was not nominated that year, but was nominated to the Supreme Court the following year when another justice retired, and also maintained a close friendship with Scalia, on and off the bench, until his death.

It is a problem that political views in America, and Washington specifically, are becoming more and more divided. But even more of a problem is the fact that politicians, and all people, are becoming less and less likely to respect, or even understand, the reasoning behind the opinions and arguments of those with whom they disagree. In a recent exchange between President Obama and Donald Trump, the President stated that he expected Trump to treat the presidency like a reality or talk show. Trump stated in return that the President is treating his job as though he is a community organizer. Last fall, Secretary Clinton was asked what enemies she had made she was most proud of, and she replied “probably the Republicans.” These sweeping statements, assumptions and insults, are perfect examples of prominent people dismissing and disrespecting people with whom they disagree.

If there is one thing we should all remember about Scalia, regardless of whether we agree with his legal views, it is his viewpoints on others he worked with. He recognized and respected the intellect of all others on the bench, regardless of whether he agreed with their viewpoints based on that intellect. His friendship with Ginsburg was the strongest example of that, but it was clear that he kept that philosophy in all aspects of his work and life.

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