Jim Lynn and Antonin Scalia in Tune from the Start

Very few people have been able to convince Justice Scalia to buy a novel argument or take a new turn. Jim Lynn was one of them. I was reminded of that today when I saw the obituary for James T. Lynn in the Washington Post. During the Nixon administration, Lynn had been undersecretary in the Commerce Department and secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When President Ford took office, Lynn became director of the Office of Management and Budget. The Post described Lynn as having a “voracious appetite for work” and “scalpel-sharp intellect.”

I interviewed Lynn at his Bethesda, Md., home in September 2007 as I was tracking down people who influenced the trajectory of Scalia’s legal career. Then 80, Lynn was remarkably energetic with a keen memory. He recalled how he crossed Scalia’s path nearly a half decade earlier.

Lynn, a Cleveland native who had gone to college at Case Western in his hometown and then Harvard Law School, was recruiting young associates for the Cleveland-based law firm of Jones, Day, Cockley and Reavis, where he had landed after Harvard. As Lynn was on a flight to Boston and looking over records of Harvard third-year students, “He leaped out at me. When I got there, I asked a professor, ‘What about this fellow Scalia?’ And he said, ‘No, no, he’s going somewhere else.’” Scalia, who earned his degree in 1960, was about to commit to a Philadelphia firm.

Lynn decided to find Scalia and make a pitch anyway. He found him at the Gannett House, where law students hung out after finishing in the library stacks. Lynn engaged Scalia in conversation about the law and made a point of dropping the names of former Supreme Court clerks who had made their way to Cleveland’s Jones, Day. (Scalia had no fondness for the Midwest. He had spent a summer at Foley and Lardner in Milwaukee and found it “too far off the beaten path.”) Around midnight, Lynn said, “You hungry?” and the two men walked over to the Hayes-Bickford cafeteria on Harvard Square for bacon and eggs. On the way back to the Gannett House, Scalia agreed to visit Cleveland.

 At a dinner party Lynn threw for Scalia, the prospective new associate made an immediate impression by arguing for “blue laws” that banned Sunday liquor sales. “They really put it to him,” Lynn said of his colleagues, “and (Scalia) handled it beautifully.” Scalia also found a fellow showman in Lynn, who (like the future justice) played the piano and sang. The Post said Lynn and Scalia even performed in a barbershop quartet. In time, Scalia would join Lynn in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Back in 2007, after I recounted to Scalia what Lynn had told me of their first meeting, the justice said, “Jim Lynn could talk anyone into anything.”