Scalia V. Ginsburg: Supreme Court Sparring, Put To Music Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have been friends for decades, but they're known for their differences when it comes to constitutional interpretation. In those dramatic clashes, recent law school graduate Derrick Wang heard an opera.
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Scalia V. Ginsburg: Supreme Court Sparring, Put To Music

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Scalia V. Ginsburg: Supreme Court Sparring, Put To Music


Scalia V. Ginsburg: Supreme Court Sparring, Put To Music

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We're going to end this half hour of our program with an unusual scoop from two justices of the Supreme Court. Last month, an historic term ended with big decisions on gay marriage, voting rights and affirmative action. And soon thereafter, the justices fled town for a little R&R.

But just before they left town, two justices known for their opposing views - Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the court's conservative wing, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leader of the liberal wing - invited NPR's Nina Totenberg to hear their arguments set to music.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: In that last Lollapalooza of a legal week, Scalia and Ginsburg each dissented loudly from the bench, but never together.


TOTENBERG: Still, the day after the gavel banged to end the term, the two happily sat and listened to a replay in song of their long-running constitutional duel. The two love to spar over ideas but are united in their love of opera, which is what brought them together on this day, to the east conference room of the Supreme Court. They were hearing a preview of an opera about their supreme disagreements.

The composer is Derrick Wang, a talented musician who, while in law school at the University of Maryland, became fascinated by Justice Scalia's dissents.

DERRICK WANG: I realized this is the most dramatic thing I've ever read in law school.


TOTENBERG: That's Wang introducing the opera to the justices and their law clerks. The idea for his composition began when he read Scalia's dissents and he heard music.

WANG: A rage aria...


WANG: ...about the Constitution and then counterpoint, as Justice Ginsburg's words appeared to me, a beacon of lyricism with a steely strength and a fervent conviction all their own. And I said to myself, this is an opera.

TOTENBERG: And so, an opera was born, entitled "Scalia/Ginsburg." Wang wrote to the justices asking permission to put their words to music and as they later put it...

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: I think Justice Scalia said: How could you stop it? We have the First Amendment.


JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA: They didn't need our permission to do this.

TOTENBERG: The opera is based on the two justices' well-known personalities - his bombastic, hers demure - and their ideological disagreements.


TOTENBERG: As the plot unfolds, the two justices find themselves locked in a room and the only way to get out is to agree on a constitutional approach. A grumpy Justice Scalia, played by tenor Peter Scott Drackley, fulminates about how his fellow justices are blind. How can they possibly spout these new rights, rights that the framers nowhere enshrined?

PETER SCOTT DRACKLEY: (as Justice Scalia) (Singing) The justices are blind. How can they possibly spout this? The Constitution says absolutely nothing about this...

TOTENBERG: When Justice Ginsburg enters, Scalia implores her, to a familiar tune, asking why she can't seem to can read the Constitution's text and its clear meaning.

DRACKLEY: (as Justice Scalia) (Singing) Oh, Ruth, can you read? You're aware of the text. Yet so proudly you've failed to derive its true meaning...

TOTENBERG: Justice Ginsburg, played by soprano Kimberly Christie, replies with calm reason, asking Scalia to just consider a different idea.

KIMBERLY CHRISTIE: (as Justice Ginsburg) (Singing) How many times must I tell you, Dear Mr. Justice Scalia, you'd spare us such pain if you'd just entertain this idea...

TOTENBERG: The idea being that the Founders bequeathed to later generations the meaning of certain constitutional rights, allowing them to flourish.

CHRISTIE: (as Justice Ginsburg) (Singing) Ah and grow, oh-oh-oh...

TOTENBERG: In his finale, Scalia replies that the Founders gave us a rigid framework to rise.

DRACKLEY: (as Justice Scalia) (Singing) We shall rise. Anyway, that's my view and it happens to be correct.


TOTENBERG: After the performance, the two justices congratulated the composer and performers.

SCALIA: It was wonderful. The music was wonderful. You know, if I had my choice I'd be a tenor.

TOTENBERG: Scalia calls himself a crypto tenor, meaning not. As for Ginsburg, she just sighs.

GINSBURG: The truth is if God could give me any talent in the world, I would be a great diva.

TOTENBERG: Instead, she is the Court's diva, playing regularly opposite divo Antonin Scalia. Their run resumes on the first Monday in October when the new term begins.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

DRACKLEY: (as Justice Scalia) (Singing) Since I have not resigned. I will seem to shout this. The Constitution thrives, absolutely nothing about...


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