Scalia lauded at court ceremony

By Sam Hananel
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The late Justice Antonin Scalia was a towering legal figure and a powerful writer — but he was also technologically challenged.

Former Solicitor General Paul Clement, who served as a law clerk to Scalia in the 1990s, recalls that the justice would take his draft opinions and rewrite them so thoroughly, they were almost unrecognizable.

“I strongly suspect it was because he had no idea how to format a new document on the computer,” Clement joked recently during a special Supreme Court ceremony honoring Scalia’s legacy.

Clement was among a half-dozen former law clerks — affectionately known as “clerkerati” — who joined top Justice Department officials to praise Scalia at an event in the court’s Great Hall. Speaker after speaker celebrated Scalia as a brilliant jurist who fundamentally changed how courts interpret the law.

Scalia was like a bright star who could “bend space” with the “pull of his intellect and the force of his arguments,” said Paul Cappucio, a former clerk who is now executive vice president and general counsel at Time Warner.

His strict text-based approach to reading laws and interpreting the Constitution are now commonplace, said Kristin Linsley, now a lawyer in private practice.

He insisted the text must control, “not watered-down by new social mores or technology.”

The gathering was the latest tribute to the conservative icon who died in February after serving nearly three decades on the court. It was organized by the Supreme Court bar, the lawyers admitted to practice before the high court.

A who’s who of legal luminaries attended, including Merrick Garland, the appeals court judge tapped more than seven months ago to take Scalia’s seat. Garland’s nomination has been in limbo as Senate Republicans have refused to allow confirmation hearings or a vote, saying it should be up to the next president to fill the seat.

No mention was made during the ceremony of the political impasse over filling Scalia’s seat, or the threats of some Republicans to block any future nominee if Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected president.

Clement recalled how justices in the 1970s and early 1980s would ask few questions of lawyers arguing before the court. That all changed when Scalia came aboard in 1986 and transformed the court into a “hot bench.” About 15 minutes into his first argument, Scalia asked a question “and then asked the next 10.”

“Arguing before the Supreme Court is now the art of answering questions,” Clement said.

Following the ceremony, the justices held a special sitting in the courtroom. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Acting Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn presented a 25-page history of Scalia’s life and legacy that was officially accepted into the court record.

Chief Justice John Roberts recalled Scalia’s noteworthy majority opinions, particularly those on criminal law, gun rights and religious freedom. He said no one can dispute that Scalia was “patriotic, principled, loyal, courageous and brilliant.”

He also joked about Scalia’s many dissents.

“He was also known to write separately from time to time,” Roberts said to laughter.