Scalia on cameras, retirement and the 'brave new world'

The U.S. Supreme Court gathers for a class portrait at the start of its new term. Joining the group is the newest member, Justice Elena Kagan.
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 11:49 AM

Supreme Court justices sometimes give the impression they are almost aggressively technology-averse, stumbling over the features of the V-chip or being stumped by instant messaging.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer told an audience at Vanderbilt Law School this week that one of the challenges of his job was the modern age of communications. "If I'm applying the First Amendment, I have to apply it to a world where there's an Internet, and there's Facebook, and there are movies like ... "The Social Network," which I couldn't even understand," Breyer said, referring to the film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

But maybe the justices know more than they let on.

Justice Antonin Scalia told an adoring audience at the Federalist Society convention Thursday night that he not only had an iPod, but does his own downloading. Mostly classical and opera, he said in response to CBS correspondent Jan Crawford, who was interviewing him at the group's massive black-tie dinner.

Not only that, but he has an iPad that his staff loads with court work. "I don't have to schlep the briefs around," Scalia said, adding with a laugh, "Oh, it's a brave new world."

Alas, he's still allergic to cameras in the courtroom. Crawford asked whether televised hearings were in the court's future now that Justice David H. Souter - who had famously said cameras would roll in over his dead body - was gone.

"It's not just that Souter left the court but Specter left the Senate," Scalia quipped, referring to former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Congress's chief advocate of televising court hearings.

That brought a roar of approval from the conservative crowd, but Scalia said he didn't mean it that way. Only that Republican-turned-Democrat Specter had been "the major - what should I say? - stimulator" of the effort in the Senate.

Scalia said cameras could change the way the court operates, even though he'd probably make good television.

He said he could "ham it up with the best of them. I'd do very well."

On other topics, put him down as a "no" for the next State of the Union. He hasn't gone for years to the "juvenile spectacle" and repeated the concern of others that it has become a partisan pep rally that makes the justices uncomfortable.

But he is reluctant to tell others what they should do. He acknowledged it is a bit hard to not show up for a State of the Union address delivered by the man who nominated you to the court.

And for those not quite as thrilled with Scalia as the Federalist Society - stand down. No retirement plans on the horizon, he said.

Crawford noted he had once said he might leave the court when he was 65, to which the 74-year-old Scalia replied that meant he'd been working nine years for free. He said he had not thought about retirement, except to vow he "will leave the minute" he feels he's lost a step.

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