My Special Time with Justice Scalia

Long before I was a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, my law school had some fund or endowment that allowed the University to bring in a high power guest speaker or lecturer every year. In my third and final year, that speaker was none other than Justice Antonin Scalia.

A brilliant constitutionalist whose focus was always looking at the legislative intent behind the law in order to analyze its applications, Justice Scalia's lecture, while quite scholarly, was so deeply intense that it was a bit mind numbing. Twenty years later, the truth is that I really didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the man’s genius and the role he played in American jurisprudence.

My real memory of the evening was not Justice Scalia’s lecture, but instead, the cocktail reception that the law school held after the lecture for benevolent donors, distinguished alumni, and us lowly law students. None of us really felt like mingling with, let alone dealing with the politicians who were working the room. We commandeered a large metal tub of Miller Genuine Draft longnecks and parked it, among the comfiest of couches. Our conversation was not about our studies, Justice Scalia’s take on legislative intent, or anything related to the law. We had a more stimulating topic of conversation – football.

We were kicking back and having a good time. We didn’t try to be quiet or subdued and really didn’t give a damn about the attention we were calling to ourselves. We were having the most fun of anyone at this elite gathering.

After about 15 minutes, a man with a round face, wearing no jacket, and an unbuttoned tie approached us, walked over to our tub, pulled out a long neck and uttered: “MGD. Perfect.” The next words out of his mouth floored us as he casually said “Mind if I join you guys?” And so he sat down, with the first of several beers in hand, and joined in the conversation. At the ripe age of 24, we were drinking beers and bullshitting with none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Aside from being among the most elite of legal minds, Justice Scalia was a good old boy from New Jersey. He was kind, down to earth, and a total guy’s guy that you would like to hang out with.

The Dean and other onlookers couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Their guest of honor blew them off to hang out and talk football with a bunch of law students. If looks could kill, we would have been six feet under on the spot.

About five years later, I got admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. I appeared in Washington as the judge who sponsored my application addressed the Court. Justice Scalia sat quietly on the bench as the brief proceeding occurred. While I had hoped for a wink, a thumb’s up, or even a gesture, the truth is that the big guy probably didn’t remember me. I wasn’t too crushed.

Years later, it was I who sponsored the application for admission of a dear friend and colleague and addressed the Court on his behalf. Yet again, not a peep from Justice Scalia.

It’s OK, Justice Scalia and I had our special time back in the day. I was lucky, I got an insight that few people had. He was a good guy.

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