Antonin Scalia Believes in the Devil & 8 More Juicy Bits from the ‘New York’ Magazine Profile
He plays poker, watches Seinfeld, and still believes in the Devil. Caroline Linton on the juiciest bits from the Scalia profile.
Happy 27 years on the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia! To celebrate, the conservative icon gave us a gift: an interview with Jennifer Senior at New York magazine, where he offered us more insight into his personality than anyone could have ever asked for. From his television watching habits (he’s seen Duck Dynasty?!) to his refusal to sway on gay rights, here are the juiciest bits from the interview.
1. Scalia ‘suspects’ he has ‘homosexual friends’
Let’s just dive right in. Scalia has famously dissented on nearly every single gay-rights case, and he once publicly sparred with a gay Princeton student, citing his “moral feelings” against homosexuality, which he compared to murder. But does his role as one of the majority who killed Prop 8 last summer mean that he has changed his mind? Don’t expect him to join the trend of Supreme Court justices officiating gay weddings any time soon. Scalia said that while none of his friends have ever come out to him, he has “friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual.” Scalia insists he is not a “hater of homosexuals,” but he “still thinks it’s Catholic teaching that it’s wrong.”
When asked about his legacy, Scalia remains defiant—even agreeing that Justice Kennedy will likely be regarded as the Thurgood Marshall of this court. How will he be regarded? “I don’t know,” Scalia said. “And frankly, I don’t care. Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it.”
2. He believes in the Devil, who has gotten “wilier” since Biblical times
It’s not like it’s a secret that Scalia is Catholic. He stage-whispered to Senior “I even believe in the Devil,” but then he got defensive. “He’s a real person! Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that!” Scalia exclaimed. Scalia said he hasn’t seen any evidence of the Devil lately, but that’s because “he’s smart” and is instead “now convincing people not to believe in him or in God.”
When Scalia tried to walk it back, claiming he didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work, things got even more awkward. “You’re looking at me like I’m weird,” Scalia said to Senior. “My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil!” He then told Senior she was “so, so far removed from mainstream America” that she was surprised. And then he admitted he was “offended” by her remarks. Holy…
3. Don’t expect to see him clapping at the State of the Union any time soon
Did Scalia not get a hug from the president at the last State of the Union he attended? Scalia hasn’t been to the State of the Union in recent years, calling the annual speech a “childish spectacle.” “We are trucked in there just to give some dignity to the occasion,” Scalia said. Admitting “it didn’t used to be that bad,” Scalia puts the blame on Ronald Reagan, or “the Gipper,” as he calls him. “He’s the one who brought in people he would recognize in the audience, that sort of thing—made it a television spectacle.” Oh and Rehnquist stopped going and John Paul Stevens never attended either, so there.
4. He can go ‘back-and-forth’ endlessly with John Paul Stevens
Even though Scalia and Stevens apparently agree on why the State of the Union is overrated, Scalia calls Stevens his “favorite sparring partner.” “There are some judges who adopt a magisterial approach to a dissent,” Scalia said, then turned his nose up and waved his hand like Harry Potter. “Just, Don’t even respond to the dissent. This is the opinion of the Court, and to hell with you. I am not like that. I think you should give the dissenter the respect to respond to the points that he makes. And so did John Stevens. So he and I used to go back-and-forth almost endlessly.” That’s nice and all, but seriously, who are the “magisterial” justices?
As for his friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Scalia admits that it could be because he had “low expectations” of the liberal justice to begin with. “When it’s somebody who you think is basically on your side on these ideological controversies, and then that person goes over to the dark side, it does make you feel bad.” But later in the interview, he admits he can’t remember the last party he went to that had an equal balance of liberals and conservatives. So basically the Supreme Court is just like high school? Got it.
5. He reads his old opinions and thinks ‘God, that’s a good opinion’
According to Scalia, his “best opening line” of an opinion included “no man should see how laws or sausages are made,” but his favorite one-liner ever is from Morrison v. Olson: “But a wolf comes as a wolf.” “That’s a great one. You gotta read the whole paragraph. Boom,” Scalia said, and then punched the air. Scalia admitted that he sometimes reads old opinions, and thinks “God, that’s a good opinion.” He said he worries he couldn’t write as good an opinion today, and “you always wonder if you’re losing your grip and whether your current opinions are not as good as your old ones.”
6. Scalia plays poker, but somehow doesn’t know what a tell is
“Shame on you! I’m a damn good poker player,” Scalia responded to Senior after she says she feels like he would be a “horrible” poker player. Scalia tells her she can confirm with his fellow players (sure), but then he doesn’t know what a tell is (a sign that he’s bluffing). This comes right after he talks about his guns, so …
7. Scalia still reads newspapers and says ‘people who get used to blurbing things on the Internet will never be good writers’ (tell us how you really feel)
Hey, Scalia, our Cheat Sheet may prove you wrong. Scalia still reads newspapers in their paper form, for crying out loud! He and his wife get The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner, but they’ve canceled their Washington Post subscription after it “went too far for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore…I think they lost subscriptions because they became so shrilly, shrilly liberal.” Scalia has no love for his hometown papers: no New York Times, or even the New York Post for that matter. He gets most of his news from “driving back and forth to work, on the radio” either from NPR or talk radio.
As if that isn’t painful enough to bloggers, he digs the knife in deeper. Admitting that “sure, I use the Internet,” Scalia says he’s not sure that it’s the Internet that has “coarsened our culture,” but rather “careless writing.” “People who get used to blurbing things on the Internet will never be good writers,” Scalia says. Quick and painful there, thanks Scalia. He then moves on to criticizing Facebook, saying “I don’t know why anyone would want to be ‘friended’ on a network. I mean, what kind of a narcissistic society is it that people want to put out there, This is my life, and this is what I did yesterday? I mean … good grief.” Clearly he hasn’t caught on to the benefits of Facebook humblebrags.
8. Scalia has seen at least one episode of Duck Dynasty
Scalia won’t use Facebook, but he’s pretty up-to-date with TV pop culture. Being a New York City native, it’s not very surprising that he is a Seinfeld fan and even owns some DVDs. “Seinfeld was hilarious,” Scalia said. “Oh boy. The Nazi soup kitchen? No soup for you!” Scalia admits to watching some of the more highbrow shows of our time, including The Sopranos and Mad Men (although he doesn’t know what Homeland is), but this one is a true surprise: he’s seen Duck Dynasty. And he didn’t even stumble on it by accident—actual people told him “oh it’s a great show.” (Does this mean he has friends who admit to watching Duck Dynasty, but not friends who are out of the closet? Ok …) He is a hunter, after all …
9. So about that pesky Ninth Amendment …
Pop quiz: does anyone understand the Ninth Amendment? It has to do the Constitution not taking away anyone’s rights, but leaves those rights unnamed. In the original Constitution, the Ninth Amendment was apparently partially concealed by an ink blot (according to Judge Robert Bork), and Scalia says the Bill of Rights initially referred to the first eight amendments—and the Ninth Amendment wasn’t used for 200 years. “If I’d been required to identify the Ninth Amendment when I was in law school, or in the early years of practice, and if my life depended on it, I couldn’t tell you what the Ninth Amendment was,” Scalia said.