Scalia, Ginsburg Strike a Balance

For his part, Scalia says he likes his colleague "because she is an intelligent woman and a nice woman and a considerate woman — all the qualities that you like in a person."

Similar backgrounds

Despite differences as jurists, Ginsburg and Scalia share some similarities in their backgrounds.

Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 15, 1933. Scalia was born in Trenton, N.J., on March 11, 1936. He spent much of his childhood in Queens and considers himself more of a New Yorker than a New Jersey man. In high school, she was a twirler. He marched in the band with his French horn.

Ginsburg ended up at Harvard Law School by way of Cornell University for her bachelor's degree. He also ended up at Harvard via Georgetown University for his bachelor's. They briefly overlapped at Harvard but did not meet. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia University for her last year of law school to be in New York with her husband, Martin, who had earned his law degree a year earlier.

The Ginsburgs have two grown children, ages 52 and 42. Scalia and his wife, Maureen, have nine children, ranging from 46 to 27. The spouses get along well. Maureen and Martin enjoy cooking. Olson says the New Year's Eve tradition is "Scalia kills it and Marty cooks it."

Ginsburg and Scalia were on separate professional paths for much of the 1960s and 1970s, although both were drawn to academia.

Ginsburg taught at Rutgers University Law School and in 1972 became the first woman named to a tenured position at Columbia Law School. She also founded the ACLU's Women's Rights Project and won five cases at the Supreme Court that secured greater protection against sex discrimination.

After Harvard, Scalia went into private practice in Cleveland for the firm of Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue. Eager to teach, he then took a job at the University of Virginia law school. He left the campus to work in various roles in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including as an assistant attorney general. When Jimmy Carter won, Scalia returned to teaching, this time at the University of Chicago.

He chalks up his friendship with Ginsburg partly to their shared history as law professors. When they began working together as judges, he says, they would read each other's opinions with a scholarly eye and offer suggestions on the writing. "I would treat her like a colleague on the faculty," he said.

Ginsburg and Scalia first crossed paths in the late 1970s when Ginsburg heard him give a speech critical of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The decision interfered with U.S. regulators' licensing of a Vermont nuclear power plant. Scalia used it as an example of judges improperly stepping on the authority of the executive branch.

Ginsburg disagreed with his criticism of the D.C. Circuit, "but I was fascinated by him," she said later, "because he was so intelligent and so amusing."

In 1980, Ginsburg, who had gained a national reputation for her legal strategies against sex discrimination, was appointed to the prestigious D.C. Circuit by President Carter.

Scalia, who was gaining attention for railing against judges who broadly interpreted individual rights, was named to the D.C. Circuit in 1982 by President Reagan.

Their New Year's Eve tradition began there and continued after they were each elevated to the Supreme Court — he in 1986 by Reagan, she in 1993 by Clinton.

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