Antonin Scalia on the Washington Post, “Seinfeld” and the Devil

October 7, 2013
(Jewel Sawad/Getty Images)
(Jewel Sawad/Getty Images)

There are so many reasons to read New York magazine's interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, including the fact that it may be the most entertaining question-and-answer session with a Washington figure published this year. But in case you don't have time to read it all, here are some of the (many) highlights. The whip-smart questions, posed by Jennifer Senior, are in italics:

1. He no longer subscribes to The Washington Post, because it's too "liberal" (though sometimes he listens to NPR).

What’s your media diet? Where do you get your news? Well, we get newspapers in the morning.

“We” meaning the justices? No! Maureen and I.

I usually skim them. We just get The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. We used to get the Washington Post, but it just … went too far for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

What tipped you over the edgeIt was the treatment of almost any conservative issue. It was slanted and often nasty. And, you know, why should I get upset every morning? I don’t think I’m the only one. I think they lost subscriptions partly because they became so shrilly, shrilly liberal.

 So no New York Times, eitherNo New York Times, no Post.

2. He no longer attends State of the Union addresses because he considers them "childish."

When was the last time you went to one?
 Oh, my goodness, I expect fifteen years. But I’m not the only one who didn’t go. John Paul Stevens never went, Bill Rehnquist never went during his later years. Because it is a childish spectacle. And we are trucked in just to give some dignity to the occasion. I mean, there are all these punch lines, and one side jumps up —­ Hooray! And they all cheer, and then another punch line, and the others stand up, Hooray! It is juvenile! And we have to sit there like bumps on a log. We can clap if somebody says, “The United States is the greatest country in the world.” Yay! But anything else, we have to look to the chief justice. Gee, is the chief gonna clap? It didn’t used to be that bad.

When? The Gipper may have been the one who started it. He’s the one who brought in people he would recognize in the audience, and things of that sort — made it a television spectacle. And once it becomes a television spectacle, it’s nothing serious.

Of course, the press has the whole thing, and they’re up in the gallery — you can hear them turning pages as the president is speaking. Why doesn't he just print it out and send it over?

It’s like the Haggadah. 
In the years when I went, we used to take bets on how long the speech would be. Rehnquist loved to have betting pools — on football games, baseball games.

3. He believes society has "coarsened" over time.

One of the things that upsets me about modern society is the coarseness of manners. You can’t go to a movie — or watch a television show for that matter — without hearing the constant use of the F-word — including, you know, ladies using it. People that I know don’t talk like that! But if you portray it a lot, the society’s going to become that way. It’s very sad.

And you can’t have a movie or a television show without a nude sex scene, very often having no relation to the plot. I don’t mind it when it is essential to the plot, as it sometimes is. But, my goodness! The society that watches that becomes a coarse society.

4. He doesn't watch many current hit shows, but loved Seinfeld.

I watched The Sopranos, I saw a couple of episodes of Mad Men. I loved Seinfeld. In fact, I got some CDs of Seinfeld. ­Seinfeld was hilarious. Oh, boy. The Nazi soup kitchen? No soup for you!

5. He believes in the Devil, whom he thinks is getting "wilier."

Can we talk about your drafting process — 
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
 Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
 You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn't happen very much anymore.

No
It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now?
 What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

6. Scalia, who describes himself as "not a hater of homosexuals at all," said he suspects he has gay friends.

I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

Have any of them come out to you
No. No. Not that I know of.

7. He thinks his most "heroic" decision was not recusing himself from a case involving then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney and his energy task force, despite the fact that they went hunting during the case's appeal.

I thought that took some guts. Most of my opinions don’t take guts. They take smarts. But not courage. And I was proud of that. I did the right thing and it let me in for a lot of criticism and it was the right thing to do and I was proud of that. So that’s the only heroic thing I’ve done.

8. He is confident he will know when it is time to retire.

Oh, I’ll know when I’m not hitting on all eight cylinders.

***

Speaking of retirement, it is just as worth reading our colleague Bob Barnes' excellent magazine piece on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which tackles the question of whether she will step down from the bench while President Obama is still in office. Here are some of her most telling comments:

1. Ginsburg is confident Obama's successor will be a Democrat.

“I think it’s going to be another Democratic president” after Obama, Ginsburg said. “The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.”

2. She considers opera “the perfect art form.”

3. Scalia, who with his wife Maureen spent many New Year's Eves with Ginsburg and her late husband, Marty, said he gets along with with his liberal colleague in part because they were both academics.

“If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake.”

Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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Chris Cillizza · October 7, 2013