Author:Clement, Paul D.
Position:Book review

Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived. Antonin Scalia. Edited by Christopher J. Scalia & Edward Whelan. Foreword by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Crown Forum (2017).


Scalia Speaks is a treasure. It collects and preserves Justice Scalia's voice, as captured in dozens of his speeches over the past three decades. The Justice was an inveterate traveler and lecturer. Although he often talked about the virtues of a "dead Constitution" over a living and evolving one, the range and sheer volume of speeches he gave is impressive. The Justice's youngest son, Christopher, and one of his early law clerks, Edward Whelan, have curated this selection from that considerable universe of material. Their editorial touch is deft and unobtrusive. Christopher introduces the volume by explaining the selection process and the challenge of reproducing the speeches of a gifted public speaker who often spoke from a combination of memory and the most skeletal of notes. The editors then trade off setting the stage--the who, where, when, and why--for each of the speeches. The volume features a foreword by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that alone is worth the price of admission.

But the glory of this book lies in the words and insights in the collected speeches. Justice Scalia's legal opinions are rightly celebrated as models of judicial writing. (1) They are witty and wise and filled with memorable prose. (2) The most memorable of those opinions are often dissents, especially lone dissents, such as his solo opinion in Morrison v. Olson. (3) The reason the dissents are particularly memorable, as the Justice himself explains in one of the speeches in this volume, is that in a dissenting opinion a judge can speak his own mind in his own voice. There is no need to compromise or trim rhetorical sails to keep a majority or pick up a fifth vote. The speeches collected in Scalia Speaks share that quality and take it to the next level. In the speeches, there was no need to convince even a single colleague to join him in an argument or turn of phrase, and unlike the dissents, the Justice was free to pick the topic. To borrow the Justice's words, the speeches are "the ne plus ultra, the Napoleon Brandy, the Mahatma Gandhi, the Cellophane" of Scalia being Scalia. (4) As a consequence, virtually every speech features an arresting phrase, a profound insight, and at least one laugh out loud line.

The speeches make for easy reading, but they offer important insights into law, life, and the perspective of this most consequential Associate Justice. While the editors group the speeches into topics--on living, on faith, on law, and so on--it is striking how many speeches on life include insights into the Justice's legal philosophy and how many speeches on law feature broader lessons for a life well lived. Fans of Justice Scalia will delight in this volume and in reading speeches that reflect his distinct approaches to everything from statutory construction to turkey hunting. But critics of his jurisprudence also will find the collected speeches useful for the sheer number of insights into how this influential and sometimes controversial Justice approached the law. Those who had the pleasure of hearing the Justice speak will be pleasantly surprised by how much of his distinct presentation style and personality jump off the page. But this collection may be even more valuable for those who missed out on that pleasure. For them, this volume represents a unique opportunity to hear from one of the most influential jurists in his own words, his own voice, and on his own choice of topics. It is a treat.


    Scalia Speaks begins with a few words from Justice Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg, of course, knew Justice Scalia exceptionally well, as their warm friendship began before the first of the collected speeches and endured throughout their shared tenures on the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg's unique vantage point positioned her well to assess and introduce the collected speeches. As she writes: "This collection of speeches and writings captures the mind, heart and faith of a Justice who has left an indelible stamp on the Supreme Court's jurisprudence and on the teaching and practice of law." (5)

    The most valuable aspect of the foreword, however, is not its perspective on the speeches, as readers will assess those for themselves, but Justice Ginsburg's observations on her enduring friendship with Justice Scalia. In a reaction that foreshadowed their relationship on and off the bench, Justice Ginsburg explains that the first time she heard him speak--on an administrative law topic, what else--she thoroughly disagreed with him on the merits, "but his acumen, affability and high spirits captivated me." (6) Justice Scalia, on the occasion of then-Judge Ginsburg's tenth year on the D.C. Circuit, noted that they "formed a very close friendship," and in light of their diametrically opposed view on a number of subjects, "one of us must be mistaken. Perhaps both." (7)

    Justice Ginsburg details the many qualities she admired in Justice Scalia. "Most of all," his "rare talent for making the most sober judge smile." (8) Justice Scalia perhaps got more than a smile out of then-Judge Ginsburg when he pointed out that "it is sometimes as hard to get her to stop laughing as it is to get her to start." (9) Justice Ginsburg closes her foreword with the observation that if her friendship with Justice Scalia "encourages others to appreciate that some very good people have ideas with which we disagree, and that despite differences, people of goodwill can pull together for the well-being of the institutions we serve and our country, I will be overjoyed, as I am confident Justice Scalia would be." (10)


    The vast majority of the collected speeches in Scalia Speaks focus on topics that are not expressly legal. The breadth and sheer number of topics covered is striking. The Justice addresses everything from the "Italian View of the Irish," (11) to "Games and Sports," (12) to "The Holocaust." (13) But while the topics are varied, some issues plainly interested the Justice more than others. Certain topics and themes recur. Those recurring topics, in turn, are a fair reflection of his biography, his passions, and his influences.

    The Justice's New York roots, for example, are in full display in a number of speeches. His talk on "Games and Sports" is a celebration of the distinctly urban games of his childhood in Queens, such as stoop ball and street hockey. (14) His reflections on "Courage" were delivered to his alma mater, Xavier High School, and underscore the enduring influence...

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