Cara L. Gallagher, Weekend Contributor
Last week, the internet of trolls solace public opinion melted for a few days grounding every other political story to a halt. Justice Scalia suddenly died and a confluence of voices, both allies and foes, shouted loud enough to practically awake him from the dead. Once they quieted, the memorials began. Moments and stories told by those who knew him, Scalia “best-of” lists, and the resurrection of “argle-bargle” – Just when I thought we’d finally buried that phrase – dominated the news cycles, stealing the spotlight from Donald Trump. So many charming Scalia moments pointed to the complexity of a man I myself had complex feelings about.
My Scalia moment happened in July of 2012, my first year working at C-SPAN. My boss and mentor, Brian Lamb, knew my affinity for the Supreme Court and invited me to join him at the taping of a Q&A interview with the Justice, who’d just written his book Reading Law. After the interview, Justice Scalia’s handler shot me daggers as I hovered outside the green room. Had Mr. Lamb not intervened by introducing us, the picture below would never have happened. Here’s how one of my greatest celebrity moments went down:
One of us is thrilled. The other would rather be hunting. (Sigh)
Me (read with bounciest, gushiest pitch possible): Justice Scalia, my name is Cara Gallagher and I’m a huge, huge fan of your writi-…
Scalia: Ok, ok, Carrie. Let’s do this.
Correct, that’s not my name.
Brusque disposition aside, the Justice was kind enough to stick around, take the picture, and chat for a little while. I was and remain a loyal fan of Justice Scalia’s opinions and dissents. Regardless of whether the case was as high profile as same-sex marriage or lower profile like an EPA case, reading a Scalia opinion, especially a dissent, meant I was likely going to disagree with the opinion before I read it and end up virtually persuaded by it at the end.
I used to run from the Court, nearly stumbling on my walk, while thumbing past the majority opinions just to get to the Scalia dissent. In Court, I would strain my neck from the gallery to see his face as he read a dissent from the bench. His profound sense of American and European history always nearly convinced me why I should come his way. His dry wit and snarky use of “Really?” appealed to my millennial sense of humor in the same way SNL’s Amy Poehler and Seth Meyer’s Weekend Update series did. Scalia’s wordsmith-ing skills charmed me. Words like ‘perpetuity’ and ‘prudential,’ I’ve always thought of him whenever I’ve heard or read them.
His words could also feel like bullets when they were launched at colleagues he disagreed with. To offend with Scalia’s brand of intellectual supremacy not the person but their ideas would be aspirational for most. His emotions got the better of him and his barbed criticisms of other Justices, even Chief Justice Roberts, as well as his flare for hyperbole, invited the masses into a mainstream Supreme Court written for their soap opera-level of pleasure. I myself got a lot of mileage out of his opinions as well as his silly facial expressions and conductor-like hand gestures. In last year’s same-sex marriage case, he famously asked the majority to go “ask the nearest hippie” whether intimacy was a protected freedom. So, we did and wrote about what that hippie said about Constitutional law.
His inclination to answer critical legal questions with an original interpretation of the Constitution, most likely would’ve inspired another barbed conversation between him and former Justice John Paul Stevens’ regarding the latter’s book on how he would change the Constitution (Scalia: Pearl clutch!).
I could forgive his brand of conservatism and originalist reading of Constitutional text, but the version of Antonin I knew was out of bounds and indefensible during the Fisher affirmative action oral arguments last year. It was there that I was reminded of the intolerant Scalia, the one whose whitewashed version of a post-racial American history I am thankful not to have to read from him when that decision comes down this summer.
The “yuck” factor on the internet passed a shamefully low level of scrutiny last week in the hours immediately after Justice Scalia’s death. I get it. His opponents have ample reasons and opinions to support such opposition. If this was a Supreme Court vote count and a simple tally had to be taken, I would be one of those opponents. But that kind of oversimplification wouldn’t explain my position or the complexity of my feelings for the Justice. It also wouldn’t reveal the humor, or the warmth, the education, or the intensified appreciation for the text of the Constitution that I got from Justice Scalia. Such an oversimplification would be genuine argle-bargle.
Some of my favorite Scalia quotes below:
“Some might conclude that this load could have used a while longer in the oven. But that would be wrong; it is already overcooked. The most expert care in preparation cannot redeem a bad recipe.” (U.S. v. Windsor)
“the majority’s resolution of the merits question is so outrageously wrong, so utterly devoid of textual or historic support, so flatly in contradiction of prior Supreme Court cases, so obviously the willful product of hostility…, that I cannot avoid adding my vote to the devastating dissent of the Chief Justice.” (Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission)
“I write separately to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy.” (Obergefell v. Hodges)
“The stuff contained in today’s opinion has to diminish this Court’s reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis.” (Obergefell v. Hodges)
“Welcome to Groundhog Day.”(Glossip v. Gross)
“Do not use the creative arithmetic that JUSTICE BREYER employs in counting the number of States that use the death penalty when you prepare your next tax return; outside the world of our Eighth Amendment abolitionist-inspired jurisprudence, it will be regarded as more misrepresentation than math.”
(Glossip v. Gross)
Follow Cara Gallagher on Twitter @SupremeBystandr.