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A moving tribute to Antonin Scalia from … Stephen Colbert

A moving tribute to Antonin Scalia from … Stephen Colbert

and a liberal law professor too!

I don’t normally watch Stephen Colbert on the Late Show.

Somehow, it turned up on my TV last night. I’m not even sure I could replicate the error.

When I heard him turn to the topic of Antonin Scalia I thought, oh boy, here we go.

But I was so pleasantly surprised. Colbert told of his one personal interaction with Scalia, and it was both funny and moving, as reported:

“Whether or not you agreed with him–or made a lot of jokes about him, like I did–one thing you’ve got to admit is that he had a great sense of humor,” Colbert began. “People have actually broken down the transcripts of oral arguments, and he told more jokes and got more laughs than any of the other justices.”

“I was lucky enough to have one conversation with Antonin Scalia that explained his appeal to me,” Colbert continued, describing his speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner. “Not many people laughed in the front row,” where the “important people” sit.

And though after the speech “no one was even making eye contact with me,” Colbert said, “Antonin Scalia [came] up to me and said, ‘It’s great! […] Great stuff!’”

“I will forever be grateful for that moment of human contact he gave me,” Colbert concluded, before giving Scalia one final all-too-appropriate salute.

Thank you, Stephen.

And thanks also to my (liberal) colleague Cornell Law Professor Michael Dorf, for this moving tribute, A Personal Remembrance of Justice Scalia:

I entered law school in the fall of 1987, just after Justice Scalia had completed his first Term on the Court. I felt his presence constantly in my study of and work in constitutional law over the last nearly-30 years. I’ll say a few brief words about his enormous legacy and then add a personal remembrance.

I have little doubt that Justice Scalia will be remembered chiefly for moving the conversation about statutory interpretation–in the direction of textualism–and constitutional interpretation–towards originalism. I have almost always found myself on the other side of these debates, but I nonetheless appreciate the magnitude of his influence. He redefined both fields.

I also think that Justice Scalia will be remembered as one of the Supreme Court’s great prose stylists. It’s easy to focus on his provocations (“argle bargle”, “kulturkampf”, “jiggery-pokery”), but doing so obscures the clarity and sheer interestingness of his writing more generally. To my mind, as a legal writer, Justice Scalia belongs in the pantheon with John Marshall, Joseph Story, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Louis Brandeis, and Robert Jackson. (I omit Cardozo from that list because his best work was as a state judge.)

Justice Scalia was undoubtedly a much more important figure for me than I was for him, but on the few occasions that our paths crossed directly, I found him a charming interlocutor. When I was a law clerk for Justice Kennedy, Justice Scalia joined me and my co-clerks for a long lunch one day. He was animated in discussing just about everything, from opera to wine to politics….

Since then, I have seen Justice Scalia from time to time at conferences and the like. He was always his effusive self. To this day, I follow his advice in selecting a good Italian red wine.

There will be time enough for discussions of who will succeed Justice Scalia, whether anyone will be confirmed before the presidential and Senate elections, and the impact if any, of a Supreme Court vacancy on those elections. I will no doubt have something to say about these subjects. For now, however, I just want to extend my condolences to the friends and family of Justice Scalia. He was one for the ages.

A liberal TV talker and liberal law professor both made my day. Could be a good time to play the lottery.


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Thanks Professor. This kinda got me choked up. Anyone who can laugh at themselves is a kind of hero in my book. Liberal or conservative, a loss is a loss.

You never know how important one small gesture can be to another person. To Scalia, those small gestures apparently came quite naturally.

JackRussellTerrierist | February 18, 2016 at 1:21 am

It seems to me that only a kind man could be as joyful and witty and Justice Scalia is reported to have been.

May God bless his family and my he rest in peace with the glory of God’s love and light upon him forevermore.

Such a testament to one’s character to have such universal respect and praise…not only for one’s competency and work, but also for their humanity.

And to live such a life in this era of conflict and separation, what a great role model for all.