David Levine, Antonin Scalia, and Laugh Lines

Over lunch last week, a friend mentioned the recent death of David Levine, the longtime caricaturist for The New York Review of Books, and we both immediately recalled Levine’s menacing portrait of Justice Scalia. Originally appearing in a June 1998 edition of the Review, Levine’s drawing shows the justice with a large square face, puffed out cheeks and bushy eyebrows. Scalia’s head is nearly overtaken by his black robe. Yet it’s not as scathing as, say, some of Levine’s versions of Robert Bork.

Levine’s caricature and other choice Scalia cartoons were on my mind (and, in some cases, taped above my desk) as I worked on American Original. A chapter, entitled “Quack Quack,” involving the controversy over Scalia’s hunting trip with Vice President Dick Cheney, ended up referring to several Scalia cartoons. One by Tony Auth of The Philadelphia Inquirer was captioned “Cheney and Scalia on the Hunt,” and the bubble over Cheney’s head said, “Ahh, Nino … Shooting ducks, Nailing Democrats… Life is good.” When the Sierra Club, a party to the then-pending case involving Cheney, asked Scalia to recuse, the Club pointed to the cartoons, along with other media reports, as evidence of an appearance of favoritism toward the vice president.

Scalia has been, as anyone can imagine, a regular source of material for cartoonists, and one by the late Herbert Block (better known by his pen name Herblock) made the book’s glossy photo insert. In the drawing, The Washington Post cartoonist targets Scalia for his religiously charged 1996 speech to the Christian Legal Society, when Scalia mocked the “worldly wise,” or as Herblock said, “worldly wise guys.”

One cartoon that didn’t make the cut and that I still have above my desk is topical today as we get ready for the upcoming gun-rights case, McDonald v. City of Chicago, to be argued March 2. The New Yorker cartoon by Michael Shaw ran October 13, 2008, a few months after Scalia had written the court’s opinion in a Washington, D.C. handgun case, District of Columbia v. Heller, finding an individual right to bear arms. In the rendering, a man asks a clerk in a gun shop, “What would Antonin Scalia pack?”