Whether you loved him or hated him, agreed with his elegant legal opinions or fervently disagreed with them, it is undeniable that Justice Antonin Scalia was one of the most influential jurists in American legal history. His death on Saturday has sent waves – of shock, dismay, and jubilation – through the country.
At a time when political partisanship is at an unprecedented height, what most intrigues me is the much-chronicled friendship between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg is as fiercely liberal as Justice Scalia was conservative, and the two disagreed vehemently about everything from women’s rights and gay marriage to campaign financing and corporate personhood, yet they were also the closest of friends.
“If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake,” Scalia has been quoted as saying. These two great legal minds recognized that there is more to life than political ideology. They worked together, traveled together, went to the opera together, and enjoyed each other’s company as human beings. Most importantly, they respected each other despite their ideological differences.
In her official statement regarding Justice Scalia’s death, Justice Ginsburg wrote:
"We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots – the 'applesauce' and 'argle bargle' – and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion."
Perhaps we can take this opportunity to remember that our civic discourse can only be strengthened by respectful debate. Disagreement on the issues alone should not negate respect, and indeed may not even preclude friendship.