Antonin Scalia's Less Well-Known Legacy: His Speeches Scalia Speaks is an anthology of the late justice's speeches on everything from the arts, turkey hunting, games and sports, faith and judging — and even the "Italian view of the Irish."
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Antonin Scalia's Less Well-Known Legacy: His Speeches

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Antonin Scalia's Less Well-Known Legacy: His Speeches

Antonin Scalia's Less Well-Known Legacy: His Speeches

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

"Scalia Speaks" - that's the title of a new collection of speeches delivered by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year. The anthology covers everything from his work to the arts, turkey hunting, games, sports, faith. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg sat down with Scalia's son Christopher - he's the book's co-editor - and also the justice's widow, Maureen.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Sitting in the den of the Scalia home, Christopher Scalia explains that he put together this collection to give non-lawyers as well as lawyers a fuller picture of his father and his many interests. The forward of the book is written by Justice Scalia's close friend Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with whom he disagreed often vehemently. As she puts it in the audiotaped opening...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: My friendship with Justice Scalia was sometimes regarded as puzzling.

TOTENBERG: Not to anyone who knew the two. In 2015, I had the good luck of interviewing Scalia and Ginsburg before an audience of about 1,500 people. The pair's affection for each other was palpable, as when I put this question to Justice Scalia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOTENBERG: How does a nice guy from Queens end up an avid hunter?

(LAUGHTER)

ANTONIN SCALIA: I met some Cajuns, and they took me goose hunting and duck hunting. And one thing leads to another, and I'm a captive of that sport now.

GINSBURG: And he's taught Justice Kagan. Yeah, they started with I think birds and graduated to Bambi.

A. SCALIA: Bambi...

(LAUGHTER)

TOTENBERG: As you can hear in that exchange, Antonin Scalia was a very theatrical presence. And in most of the speeches in the book, those who knew him will quite literally hear his voice in their heads.

One of my personal favorites in the collection is called "The Italian View of the Irish," delivered in 1988 to the Sons of St. Patrick in New York. There is no existing recording of the speech. In it, Scalia discusses the characteristics of what he calls Homo hibernicus. One of the traits, he said, of course is lying. Any other group would take offense at that, but I'm sure that this gathering will proudly agree that nobody in the world can tell a glorious, toweringly false tale as well as an Irishman. I asked Mrs. Scalia, born Maureen McCarthy, if she thought that was true.

MAUREEN SCALIA: Well, I don't think it's lying. There is fun in spinning a story and see how far you could go.

TOTENBERG: Indeed, Maureen Scalia was fond of curing her husband's occasional grumpiness at the breakfast table by reading him items from the newspaper that she made up. Among son Christopher's favorite speeches is one called "The Arts" delivered at the Juilliard School in 2005. Appearing on a panel with historian David McCullough, opera singer Renee Fleming and composer Stephen Sondheim, Justice Scalia opened this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A. SCALIA: Today's program reads like some sort of weird IQ test. Which of the following is out of place...

(LAUGHTER)

A. SCALIA: ...Diva, author, composer, lawyer? It is certainly true that the main business of the lawyer is to take the imagination, the mystery, the romance, the ambiguity out of everything that he touches.

(LAUGHTER)

TOTENBERG: Scalia then segued to a discussion of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and why it forbids censoring ideas in the arts but not lousy music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A. SCALIA: The First Amendment says what it says, not what we lovers of the arts would like it to say. This means - I am sorry to say - that in my view, even music, as opposed to lyrics, is not covered.

TOTENBERG: Christopher Scalia.

CHRISTOPHER SCALIA: He didn't tell people what they wanted to hear. As he said, if they wanted to hear it, they probably already believed it, so there's no point in giving a speech about it.

TOTENBERG: Then there is what the younger Scalia calls the stump speech - the speech with variations that the justice gave all over the country, proselytizing his view of legal interpretation. Here, for instance, is one excerpt from NPR's files.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

A. SCALIA: The constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead or, as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean but what it meant when it was adopted.

TOTENBERG: Son Christopher said he had looked forward to finding the actual text of one such speech that he heard his father give in Madison, Wis. But as he pored over boxes of texts and discs, he could not find it.

C. SCALIA: He had instead what he called the outline, which was basically just a handful of words. Really, I don't even think they were in complete sentences.

TOTENBERG: And the justice insisted on having a copy of those printed fragments with him almost as a good luck charm, observes Mrs. Scalia.

M. SCALIA: He would be getting ready to go on a trip, and I often would be pressing his suit. And in the pocket of almost every jacket he wore, there would be a copy, just a little printout of that.

TOTENBERG: In legal circles and among colleagues, Justice Scalia was famous for his vivid writing, especially his dissents. There are some very famous lines in those dissents often delivered from the bench with dramatic panache. Here he is dissenting from a decision that upheld a buffer zone outside abortion clinics to protect patients from being harassed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A. SCALIA: Does the deck seem stacked - you bet. The decision in the present case is not an isolated distortion of our traditional constitutional principles but is merely the latest of many aggressively pro-abortion novelties announced by the court in recent years.

TOTENBERG: Writing dissents is in fact the topic for one of the speeches in the book. Here, Scalia talks about dissenting opinions as something of a liberation because he didn't have to worry about the views of others and could, to put it in the vernacular, let her rip. That meant sometimes trashing a colleague's majority opinion with biting and personal commentary - in one case, for instance, saying that if he had joined the majority opinion, quote, "I would hide my head in a bag." Maureen Scalia says she would often hear her husband trying various phrases out loud while he worked on a dissent.

M. SCALIA: And every once in a while, he'd come and read something to me. And I'd say, you're not really going to say that, are you? He said, no, but it's really good, isn't it?

TOTENBERG: Well, there were a few times that he did it anyway.

M. SCALIA: He didn't try it on me. That's why. He knew what I would say.

(LAUGHTER)

TOTENBERG: I see.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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