The Lines of Shakespeare, Scalia, Stevens

With the new round of questions about whether William Shakespeare was a literary impostor, brought on by the movie Anonymous, I thought it was time to go back and ask Justice Scalia what he thought.

Scalia, who uses literature and lyrics to make his legal points, often quotes from Shakespeare. I recall in his first term he invoked lines from Henry the Fourth, Part I, as he dissented in an affirmative action case from Santa Clara County, California:

 Glendower: I can call Spirits from the vasty Deep.

Hotspur: Why so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?

But Scalia has been among those who in the past voiced doubts that Shakespeare, with his limited schooling, could have produced such a great body of work. When I asked last week, Scalia was uncharacteristically reluctant to take up the subject. He begged off that he wasn’t an expert on the topic and didn’t have an answer. He would only say there was room for doubt.

When I asked about his favorite Shakespeare work, Scalia said Macbeth — because when he was in high school he got to play the lead. When he first told me years ago about that experience, he said he considered it quite a feat: “Do you know how many lines I had to memorize?!”

 On a related Scalia note, retired Justice Stevens captures the wise-cracking Scalia his new memoir, Five Chiefs. Stevens wrote that, “When the microphones are turned off, a justice will occasionally exchange a comment or two with his immediate neighbor. For most of our careers, Nino Scalia and I sat next to each other, and I was the beneficiary of his wonderfully spontaneous sense of humor. One morning when we heard a case involving a defendant who had refused to answer questions about the crime under the investigation but volunteered a long incriminating statement about a more serious offense and a second case in which the defendant had refused to sign a written confession while verbally describing inculpatory facts in great detail, Nino whispered to me that this must be our ‘dumb defendant day.’”

Last week when I interviewed Justice Stevens about the new book, he elaborated on his colleagues and Scalia’s name came up often. As he addressed recent calls by critics for changes in the Supreme Court’s rules on conflicts of interest, Stevens said he didn’t think any revisions were needed. (See story and comments about Justice Clarence Thomas) “I really don’t have any concern that people are failing to disqualify themselves when they should,” Stevens told me. He added that, “The closest, I suppose, was Nino and the vice president,” referring to a 2004 case involving then-Vice President Dick Cheney that arose soon after the pair had gone duck-hunting together. “But I’m sure that didn’t have any impact on his vote.”