Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said Justice Antonin Scalia was a “giant.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer described him as a “legal titan.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said “Nino” had left “an indelible mark on our history.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that she and Scalia — the oddest of Supreme Court odd couples — “were best buddies.”
The current justices shared statements Sunday remembering the man who had been at the court for more than 29 years, longer than any of them.
“Nino Scalia will go down in history as one of the most transformational Supreme Court justices of our nation,” wrote the newest justice, Elena Kagan. “His views on interpreting texts have changed the way all of us think and talk about the law.”
Kagan also became Scalia’s hunting pal, and President Obama’s former top aide David Axelrod remembered on Sunday that Scalia lobbied him at a White House correspondents’ dinner to have Obama make Kagan, then the president’s solicitor general, his first appointment to the court.
Scalia knew Obama would not nominate someone with the same views he held, Axelrod said, but Scalia said the president should nominate someone smart.
Axelrod recounted: “ ‘Let me put a finer point on it,’ the justice said, in a lower, purposeful tone of voice, his eyes fixed on mine. ‘I hope he sends us Elena Kagan.’ ”
Obama sent Sotomayor instead, and Kagan the next year.
But Scalia’s longtime sparring partner, first on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then at the Supreme Court, was Ginsburg. The two and their spouses were ideological opposites, but also close friends, who spent most New Year’s Eves together, with Martin Ginsburg usually preparing something Scalia had shot on a hunting trip.
“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,” Ginsburg wrote. “Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots — the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’ — and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.
“He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, who sat between Scalia and Breyer in the court’s current configuration, called him “a dear, dear friend. In every case, he gave it his all to get the broad principles and the small details right.”
Former justice Sandra Day O’Connor, with whom Scalia frequently disagreed, recalled his “gifts of wisdom, wit, and wordsmithing.” John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010 after serving with Scalia for more than two decades, once said one of the things he missed about the court was arguing with Scalia.
He called him a “good friend, a brilliant man with an incomparable sense of humor, and as articulate as any justice who ever served on the court.”