Stories About Justice Scalia: Sorting Myths from Truths

A professor at Gettysburg College last week said she had heard that the Justice Scalia had never hired a single female law clerk.  On several radio shows, I’ve been asked about Scalia and Opus Dei. Then there’s the assertion I hear constantly that Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas vote in lockstep.

On many controversies (duck-hunting with Dick Cheney, for example), Justice Scalia is guilty as charged. But not on those above:

1. Justice Scalia has, in fact, hired several women clerks over the years, some of whom have gone on to prominent positions in academia, such as Joan Larsen at the University of Michigan. It is true, however, that clerks for a majority of the justices, including Scalia, have been overwhelmingly male (and white) through the years.

2. Justice Scalia is a conservative Roman Catholic who told me the Second Vatican Council (which excised Latin and liberalized the Catholic liturgy) was not on his “hit parade.” He was always looking around for the right place to worship. When his nine children were young, he hauled the clan from their suburban Virginia home to downtown Washington, D.C., for a remaining Latin mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and, when living other places, drove miles each Sunday to a just-right church. His visiting mother-in-law once said, “Why don’t you people ever seem to live near churches?”
 Yet, Scalia  is not a member of the secretive Opus Dei. As far as I know, none of the Catholic justices is, although those rumors – accelerated by Dan Brown’s portrayal of Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code — constantly swirl.

3. Scalia and Thomas are indeed together on many cases (see their joint concurring opinion today in Wilkins v. Gaddy on what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment), but Thomas is more conservative than Scalia and often writes solo dissenting opinions. That happened in the recent case of  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (on the disclosure requirements of the disputed law) and in last term’s Voting Rights Act case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder.
 The two justices say they have an easy friendship, and Scalia told me that when they are aligned in dissent, it can have a psychic benefit: “There are times when I think I’ve been a comfort to him and he’s been a comfort to me. Nobody else seemed to see things our way. It’s nice to have a least one other person who you can sympathize with.”

And about Scalia’s relationship with Dick Cheney? The Scalia-Cheney bond – which put the justice in hot water in 2004 when Cheney had a case at the Court and the pair went hunting — traces to the mid-1970s when they both worked in the Ford Administration. Scalia was an assistant attorney general, and Cheney became White House chief of staff. Scalia told me they have remained friendly over the years but not close personal friends, as Scalia has, say, with then-deputy attorney general Laurence Silberman (now D.C. Circuit appeals court judge). Of Cheney, Scalia said, “He knew who I was. He knew my qualifications. He knew I was on the right team.”