Solving A Problem Like Scalia

Today at the Supreme Court I ran into a law professor who is working on a biography of another sitting justice and she mentioned she had seen American Original criticized for taking an objective approach to a justice who constantly generates fury. Jim Newton, in a review in the Los Angeles Times, had touched a bit on this when he wrote of the book, “It is scrupulously even-handed, which may irritate partisans on both sides of the Scalia divide — there are few fence-straddlers when it comes to him.” Then, later in the afternoon today, the question of partisan responses came up when I was a guest on Politico’s Arena, and moderator Fred Barbash asked how Scalia’s fans have responded to the book. I said some have wondered, of course, why I didn’t paint him as a saint. At the same time, a slew of folks on the other side have questioned why I didn’t make him out to be the devil. (More on the former later.)

So, why take a tempered approach to a hot-head like Scalia who inspires equally heated responses from those who love him and who hate him? I will admit that with a justice like Scalia, it might have been easier – and more marketable – to add one more harangue. But I, along with my editor, made conscious decisions at several points in the process not to ratchet up the rhetoric – to match his style – and to try to lay out in a more nuanced case for a broad readership. As a veteran journalist, that is my natural style. But my shrewd editor Sarah Crichton also thought that at a time of polarized politics and distrust for the news media, there was an advantage to offering readers an even-handed take and letting people draw their own conclusions from the evidence. Reviewers have done that. See, for example, Steve Weinberg’s review that ran in the Dallas Morning News and Chicago Sun-Times, and Claude Marx’s review in the Boston Globe.

As I told Politico today, one of my favorite responses-to-responses was from a lawyer friend who scoffed at those who wanted Scalia cast as the embodiment of evil or a saint. On the latter score, he noted, canonization requires two miracles and what Scalia pulled off in Bush v. Gore qualifies as only one.