The sudden passing of Justice Antonin Scalia reminds us of two things: the fragility of life and the importance of the Supreme Court in shaping decisions that last far beyond our lifetimes.
It was such a shock to many of us who knew him that “Nino,” as he was affectionately called, died over the weekend of natural causes while on a hunting trip in West Texas. When the ranch’s owner didn’t get a reply from Justice Scalia after knocking on the door of his suite at 8:30am Saturday, he didn’t think much of it, figuring the esteemed jurist was still resting or working on Supreme Court business. No one would’ve imagined the vivacious 79-year-old Scalia had passed in his sleep at this remote ranch.
I had the honor of having several dinners with Justice Scalia when I worked as Senior Correspondent for Fox News in Washington. As steadfast as he was about his legal decisions, he was equally passionate about life and his outside interests. His broad smile and warm heart filled any room, and I remember one cherished evening at the Italian Embassy in Washington when the staff showed me to my seat… which turned out to be right next to Justice Scalia. I thought I had won the lottery, and even more so, after spending the entire evening chatting with him about his amazing life and everything from tennis to WWII history to his love of family and his favorite Italian dishes. Indeed, known for his unabashed comments about topics near and dear to him, the father of nine was famously quoted elsewhere as saying, “In a big family the first child is kind of like the first pancake. If it’s not perfect, that’s okay… There are a lot more coming along.”
We had several dinners together after that wonderful night and he was always personable, engaging, brilliant and unforgettable. He was also intent on hearing what others thought of issues and current events, and it was no surprise to me to learn that one of his closest friends was fellow high court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with whom he could not be further opposite of politically. Once you met Justice Scalia, you became disarmed of any preconceptions of this great and colorful man. He was humble, incredibly witty and deeply respected by many on all sides of the political spectrum. The Senate unanimously confirmed him in 1986 in a vote of 98 to zero, that resounding vote is almost unheard of in divisive Washington, DC.
His larger-than-life persona and deep dedication to the law will be remembered for centuries to come. His untimely passing has also refocused the Presidential race on the importance of who sits on the Supreme Court and the role of the President in making that very important nomination, a lifetime appointment. Over the next few weeks and months we are sure to hear and see many battles between the Oval Office and Congress over whether the President should nominate Scalia’s replacement or leave that to his successor, given it’s an election year.
The stakes are high and it will likely be an epic showdown, as the court is now essentially four and four, given the intellectual leader of the conservative wing is now gone. This next justice could prove to be the swing vote on some of the most pivotal legal decisions of our lifetime, and both sides know that all too well.
Often Presidential candidates talk about the importance of the high court and how critical it is to select the best jurist, but now that reality has hit home and catapulted that dialogue in the biggest way. This fight will contain ideological warfare at the highest level. Whether President Obama gets someone through the nomination process or if they are fervently blocked by the Senate, either way, both sides will be galvanized by their causes and their political base. It’s the kind of fight Justice Scalia would’ve relished, and despite vast political differences, he still would’ve left the leaders on both sides smiling from his gregarious personality and good nature, even if they utterly disagreed with his legal assessment. At a time of such partisan divide in our nation, our political leaders could all take lessons from this brilliant man and his legacy.
Join me for a special dinner on March 2nd at the fabulous and very delicious steakhouse Delmonico’s Kitchen NYC on West 36th Street. We’re hosting a fantastic dinner 6-8pm with me and some big name political guests! And lots of surprises! You don’t want to miss this! Be sure to register right away here on this link or call 212 613 3848 to make your reservations for this amazing night. I would love to see you there and hear your thoughts! Are you as passionate about the Presidency as I am? Come out and make YOUR voice heard! We also plan to make a one hour special out of our great night, so we might even include YOUR comments on air!
I hope to see you March 2nd!