Remembering Justice Scalia
In the past few weeks, I had the rare privilege of taking a 10-day trip to Asia with two of our prominent authors, Justice Antonin Scalia and Professor Bryan Garner. We publish their very successful coauthored books – Reading Law and Making Your Case. Bryan planned this trip as a lecture series and a book-discussion and touring opportunity to talk about their shared passion: the rule of law and its application in a democratic society.
This was not their first national or international trip to spread the scope and understanding of our legal system, but unfortunately it was their last. They were kind enough to invite me along, and I was honored and privileged to join Justice Scalia, Bryan, and Bryan’s wife Karolyne, who serves as general counsel of the Garners’ business, LawProse.
We had no reason to believe that Justice Scalia would die a little over a week after our return from Singapore and Hong Kong. The great energy, humor, and intellectual firepower for which he is known were on full display throughout the trip, especially during the many lectures and discussions in which he took part at law schools. There was no hint of underlying health issues.
From the outset, it was clear that the Garners had a special connection with Justice Scalia. Bryan and the Justice had spent hundreds of hours working together on Making Your Case and Reading Law, and had developed a very close professional and personal relationship. Over the course of 10 days, we spent many hours together – breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, some touring and van rides to and from the many lectures and receptions.
An eminent lexicographer, Bryan is a gifted writer, researcher, and lover of language. Justice Scalia was a formidable scholar, a superb writer, and intellectual giant, so it was an incredible treat to spend time with them discussing a wide range of topics. We also enjoyed a good deal of playful banter. Etymology, the meaning of words, phrases, titles of songs, even famous actors were often the subject of debate. When Justice Scalia and Bryan didn’t agree on an answer the Justice would often turn to me and say “Tom, what do you think?” Being no fool, I would ponder the question and then agree with the Justice.
Our first stop was Singapore, where Justice Scalia met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Then, following a meeting with Sundaresh Menon, Chief Justice of Singapore, Justice Scalia and Bryan gave a talk on Reading Law at the Supreme Court auditorium. It was very well received and followed by a spirited Q&A session. The following day, Justice Scalia gave a lecture at the National University of Singapore on judicial interpretation of legal texts, which was followed by a wonderful dinner with the NUS Law Faculty.
On the Hong Kong leg of the trip, our first event was a reception held by American Consul General Ford Hart. He had invited many prominent people from the local legal community to his beautiful residence in the hills, and all were quite eager to meet the Justice. Consul General Hart and his staff took very good care of Justice Scalia and our group throughout the visit. We also met with Geoffrey Ma, Chief Justice of the highest court, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, and gave us a wonderful tour of their beautifully renovated courthouse. We had a full agenda during the rest of our time in Hong Kong, with lectures at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University, where Justice Scalia deftly handled some difficult questions relating to “One Country, Two Systems” – a reference to the special rights Hong Kong was given following the 1997 reversion to China from the United Kingdom.
I don’t want to leave the impression that our visit was all business, as we took the time to take in the sights around the city. Our experience was immeasurably enhanced by the presence of Karolyne, who knows Hong Kong well and has close family there. They treated Justice Scalia and me as family and helped us experience the real Hong Kong. We negotiated in the jade market, haggled over the price of bronze sculptures in the rows and rows of shops, and even found a great tailor who specialized in bespoke suits. Karolyne’s family was also very kind to include us their Chinese New Year celebration.
It has been often noted since his passing that Justice Scalia was a dedicated family man and a devout Catholic. As such, I had the pleasure of attending Sunday Mass with the Justice. Though the mass was said in Cantonese we understood what was being said because of the universality of the rite – it was a wonderful experience.
On our last afternoon in Hong Kong, we held an event at the local Thomson Reuters facility, hosted by Neerav Srivastava, director of Content Development for Legal. Justice Scalia and Bryan had an animated conversation about their collaboration on Reading Law and Making Your Case, about the Justice’s judicial philosophy, and much more. The talk was followed by a Q&A session and an informal reception where Bryan and the Justice signed copies of their book – and just about anything else people wanted signed. Sadly, this would turn out to be Justice Scalia’s last public appearance.
Justice Scalia has always been very kind and generous to me. In the fall of 2014, I worked closely with the Library of Congress and the English Inns of Court to kick off the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta with an exhibit featuring the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the 1215 Magna Carta. The world renowned Temple Church Choir came over from London to perform at the opening ceremony in the Library’s magnificent Jefferson Building and had hoped to find an additional venue at which to perform. I agreed to help and met with Justice Scalia to ask whether he might be willing to host an event at the Supreme Court. He immediately agreed to do so.
When I asked if he would like to speak on a Magna Carta panel discussion after the choir performance, the well-known textualist politely declined, adding that there were many others more qualified than him to speak on the subject. “Besides,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I don’t believe in the living Magna Carta.”
I take some solace in knowing that Justice Scalia truly enjoyed himself on our trip to Asia and continued to educate many about his judicial philosophy and the importance of the Rule of Law. Whether he was expounding on textualism or originalism, bantering with Bryan on the canons of interpretation, answering questions on Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” issue, or enjoying conversation with Karolyne’s family, he seemed always in his element. Very warm and generous with his time, Justice Scalia lived life to the fullest – telling jokes, laughing, and even singing opera (quite well, I’ll add) during a ride to one lecture. It was an amazing experience to spend time with this legal giant and truly good man.
My personal condolences to his family, and on behalf of Thomson Reuters – his publisher for the past nine years – it was an honor to help you spread your passion for the Rule of Law to others, through the well-written word.
Antonin Scalia, Requiescat in pace.
This post was written by Tom Leighton, vice president of Legal Editorial Operations at Thomson Reuters.