Convivial to the core.
The Thursday conferences with his Supreme Court clerks were thrilling, but it was the lunches at AV Ristorante Italiano on Capitol Hill in Washington that best brought out the true nature of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Stephen Miller, a white-collar defense lawyer at Philadelphia-based Cozen O'Connor who clerked for Scalia in 1998 and 1999, remembers fondly those lunches of pizza with anchovies and glasses of red wine, when Scalia and his clerks would relax and take on topics large and small. "It would be the four of us and him, and they would give us the entire back room, and you would just sit there for two hours kibitzing with him," Miller said Monday of Scalia, who died Saturday.
Scalia reveled in the richness and give-and-take of the law and its abstractions, as his piquant legal prose, widely acknowledged as the best among the justices, amply demonstrated. But he also was an unabashed social animal whose exchanges with clerks and others at the court reflected his zest for personal interaction.
Courtney Saleski, a trial and appellate lawyer at DLA Piper in Philadelphia who clerked for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist in the 2003 term, said that when Scalia chose to deploy them, his social skills were unparalleled.
"Justice Scalia, as many have said, was an intellectual giant and a gifted writer," Saleski said. "He transformed the way we think about the Constitution through his views on originalism and textualism. The thing that surprised me the most about spending time with the justice was how charming and fun he was. Justice Scalia lit up the room, and he was a great storyteller."
Scalia was an inspiration for young lawyers from both sides of the political spectrum.
Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, who tends toward the liberal end of the spectrum, recalls almost as an epiphany concluding as a Yale law student that Scalia's doctrine of original intent - which calls for interpreting the Constitution as its drafters would have intended - could lead to liberal as well as conservative results.
"He so thoroughly transformed the terms of the debate," Rosen said.
What Miller most recalls about Scalia is how he sought to bring his law clerks into the behind-the-scenes back-and-forth that resulted in Supreme Court decision-making. The court typically heard oral arguments on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and on Thursday afternoons Scalia would sit down with his clerks to discuss each of the cases that had been argued. He would often indicate how he was leaning, but invited push-back as a means of rigorously testing his legal reasoning.
"He would say how he intended to vote, and if anyone wanted they could inject themselves into the process," Miller recalled.
Miller's interview with Scalia in his chambers for the clerkship went off pleasantly, he said. There was little talk about the law, and the conversation seemed more about seeing whether Miller and Scalia would be compatible coworkers.
The tough part came when he was interviewed by Scalia's four clerks, who grilled him ruthlessly.
"It was an incredibly heady moment," Miller said of his interview with Scalia. "You are already off-balance when you walk into the building, and then he would give you over to his four law clerks for what was not so much of a charming session.
"The clerks focused on the law, and if you said the sky was blue, they would say it was red," Miller said. "They just wanted to be contrarian and see if you could hold your ground."
For Scalia, having clerks who could hold their own was all about testing the rigors of his own intellect, Miller said.
Something similar happened on the tennis court. Scalia wasn't the most athletic of players, Miller said, but would find a way to score points. "It was a smart man's game," he said of Scalia's tennis style. "He immediately homed in on my weakness. He hit to my backhand every single time he could."
Like his tennis strategy, there was little that was hidden about Scalia.
"He was a very loyal person, a man of true faith," Miller said. "This is not to disparage public figures, but sometimes public figures are a bit of a put-on, but he was exactly what you saw."