Justice Ginsburg Remembers Her 'Best Buddy,' Antonin Scalia

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 16, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When Justice Scalia passed away last Saturday, politicians and pundits immediately set about remembering the conservative jurist and his legacy. But one voice stands out among the rest: that of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose relationship with Antonin Scalia proved that friendship knew no boundaries.

Their camaraderie spanned boroughs (he's from Queens, she's from Brooklyn), backgrounds (he attended Harvard, she's the only Columbia grad on the High Court), and, of course, politics. It even inspired an opera. Here's how Justice Ginsburg remembered her longtime friend and "best buddy."

A Friendship Based in Difference -- and Opera

While Justices Ginsburg and Scalia stood in sharp contrast on so many issues -- constitutional interpretation, reproductive rights, plain robes versus jabots -- they shared one great passion outside the law: opera. That friendship, borne out of that shared love of opera, was memorialized this past summer in Derrick Wang's opera "Scalia/Ginsburg."

Justice Ginsburg begins her reflections on Scalia with that opera. She writes:

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: "We are different, we are one," different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve.

That difference has served them well, too, making them both better jurists during their more than 20 years serving together on the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit:

From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots -- the "applesauce" and "argle bargle" -- and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.

Scalia Performs, on the Bench and Off

As Justice Ginsburg notes, Justice Scalia's sharp tongue and pugnacious writing were some of his defining characteristics on the bench, where his scathing dissents often outshined his majority opinions. As Ginsburg puts it:

He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his "energetic fervor," "astringent intellect," "peppery prose," "acumen," and "affability," all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader's grasp.

But his great performances were not limited to the Court:

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.

Justice Scalia is survived by his wife, nine children, 36 grandchildren, and, of course, by his friends on the Court.

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