The full extent of the unlikely friendship between the late Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg is revealed in a new biography.
Despite their political divisions — Scalia was a staunch conservative and Ginsberg was a liberal icon — the two shared heartfelt comments about their work.
A biography of Scalia’s early years by journalist James Rosen says they bonded while serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, long known as a springboard to the Supreme Court.
Scalia: rise to greatness reveals that Ginsburg praised Scalia for a “beautifully executed” decision as they both served on the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia in the 1980s.
She repeatedly apologized for his heavy workload, once telling him, “Sorry to put you through this labor,” and even bitching about another judge for being “ineffective.”
Scalia, for his part, praised one of Ginsberg’s statements as an “excellent work” and supposedly “let his hair down” in the points on her draft verdicts, Rosen writes.
New book Scalia: Rise to Greatness reveals that RBG and Antonin Scalia became close friends while serving on the District of Columbia Circuit Court in the 1980s. Pictured together in 2014
The SCOTUS judges pose with cast members of ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’ after a performance at the Washington Opera in 1994. The judges, both opera aficionados, acted as extras during the performance
The book, due out March 7, shows how the justices managed to work through their political differences to form a close friendship, which now seems strange given the partisan bickering over the Supreme Court.
Both were from New York – Scalia from Queens and Ginsberg from Brooklyn – and she was Jewish while he was Catholic and Italian-American.
They were fellow academics, Scalia having taught at the law schools of the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago, Ginsburg at Rutgers and Columbia.
After Scalia’s death in 2016 at age 79, Ginsberg said she was “blessed” to have been his friend and said they were “best buddies.”
The book, which will be released on March 7, is written by journalist James Rosen
Scalia, who was known as ‘Nino’, once said, ‘What’s not to like? Except for her views on the law,” referring to Ginsberg who died in 2020 at the age of 87.
Ginsberg served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court from 1980-93, while Scalia served from 1982-86.
Rosen writes that at the time, Ginsberg displayed an “almost motherly attitude toward Scalia” and repeatedly and “unnecessarily” expressed concern about his workload, offering to trade business to make things easier for him.
In a private message, Ginsberg wrote, “Sorry for the headache the case is causing you.” In another, she wrote, “I’m sorry you’re going through this labor.”
At one point, Ginsberg made a joke about “puntas,” a reference to a 1914 novel by French prize-winner Andrew Gide, followed by a second comment to make sure Scalia got her point.
On a Scalia draft, Ginsberg wrote, “Just right. I agree.’ On another she wrote, “Beautifully done.”
She even complained about another judge, Pat Wald, who told Scalia, “PMW (Weld) is least effective when it tries to build a case from its own interpretation.”
Scalia’s notes to Ginsberg on her drafts included “Fantastic work,” “I couldn’t suggest any improvements,” and “excellent as usual.”
The book says that in Ginsberg’s notes, Scalia “could let his hair down.”
When Ginsberg urged him to change his vote on a ruling, he did so the next day and told her, “Let’s be unanimous.”
While apologizing for the late reply, he chastised himself for being the “laziness that I am.”
The public seemed to enjoy the friendship between the two judges and when they appeared together at George Washington University in 2015, the first 350 tickets were bought in less than three hours.
Last year they were the subject of the comic opera ‘Scalia/Ginsberg’ by Derrick Wang.
After Scalia’s death in 2016 at age 79, Ginsberg said she was “blessed” to have been his friend and said they were “best buddies.” She is pictured speaking at his memorial service
The judges put aside their political differences and praised each other’s work. Scalia praised one of Ginsberg’s statements as an “excellent work” and supposedly “let his hair down” in the points on her design verdicts, Rosen writes
Scalia once said, “What’s not to like? Except her views on the law,” referring to Ginsberg who died in 2020 at age 87
Scalia once described the friendship: “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas.”
Another time, Scalia said, “We agree on a lot of things.”
In her memoir “My Own Words,” Ginsberg said Scalia had a “captivating brilliance, cheerfulness, and quick wit.”
One of the other revelations in Rise to Greatness is that Scalia’s father was so demanding that it made him a perfectionist for life and even corrected his legal instructions with pen when he was a federal judge, despite having no legal training had enjoyed.
When the late Justice Robert Bork was overlooked by Ronald Reagan for a Supreme Court seat in favor of Scalia in 1986, he blamed Scalia being the first Italian American to receive the honor.
Rosen claims Reagan had another reason for choosing Scalia: Bork was older and a smoker, which meant he wouldn’t live long enough to impress the court—although he unsuccessfully nominated him the following year.
Scalia was discriminated against because of his Italian-American background and was berated as ‘Fat Tony’ because of his weight.
While Scalia’s tough personality impressed some, it infuriated others and some thought he was an “a******.”
Scalia also had a habit of getting into fights in restaurants, such as when he lost out to the staff who told him not to smoke his pipe – while smoking cigarettes was fine.
Another time, he got into a fight with a friend when he tried to give the waitress a dime and flew into a rage when challenged about it.