U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on February 13, 2016. As arguably the most staunchly conservative jurist on the Court, his opinions often drew ire from opponents. But what is now emerging is a more intimate look at the man, the employer and the lawyer.
A number of his previous law clerks are speaking out about the man behind the persona. In the February 15, 2016 The Guardian article, titled Antonin Scalia: liberal clerks reflect on the man they knew and admired, these clerks spoke highly of Justice Scalia:
He was a great boss and a wonderful mentor. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat the people who work for them, and Justice Scalia was always kind, respectful, willing – and even excited – to engage in discussion and debate, whether or not you agreed with him.
On the one hand, he was unfailingly good to me as a boss and as a person. We spent significant chunks of time arguing back and forth about an issue, sometimes spread out across a few days. I cannot emphasize enough what an incredible experience this was for me, and it was all contingent on the fact that he treated me with respect. He made me feel that he valued my opinion and was taking my arguments seriously and was attempting to address them head on.
While these sentiments speak highly of Justice Scalia, the boss, it is Mr. Seinfeld’s further observation that piqued our interest. Mr. Seinfeld recounts when Justice Scalia spoke to his mother’s middle school class, and a student asked the Justice if he ever regretted any of his opinions.
I have seen other judges field this question and show obvious reluctance to admit error or reflect on missteps. Justice Scalia could not have been more direct and forthcoming, and I think it taught the students the valuable lesson that everyone, including a supreme court justice, makes mistakes – perhaps even important ones – and there is no shame in saying so.
Justice Scalia was indeed a brilliant and complex man, and while we may not have always agreed with his opinions, he was an excellent example of a lawyer who loved the law and who could admit when he erred. RIP Justice Scalia.