Scalia, Ginsburg Strike a Balance

"Their bond is in off-hours pursuits," says Frank Lorson, a retired chief deputy clerk of the Supreme Court and a longtime friend of Ginsburg's.

They enjoy all forms of classical music and attended a Washington Performing Arts Society celebration last month that featured cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

In 1994, they appeared in white powdered wigs and 18th-century costumes as "extras" in the Washington National Opera's production of Richard Strauss' Ariadne aufNaxos. In pictures, they look like excited children playing dress-up.

The classic image of the pair is a picture of them on a judicial trip to India in 1994. Scalia sits on the front of an elephant with Ginsburg behind him. Ginsburg has said her feminist friends sometimes ask why she is sitting in the back.

"It had to do with the distribution of weight," the petite justice answered.

Tough demeanor

On the bench and in matters of law, there is nothing playful about their relationship. During oral arguments, they often try to undercut each other's ideologically opposite lines of reasoning.

An argument this term in the criminal law case of Danforth v. Minnesota was Exhibit A. Scalia jumped in with a difficult question for a state public defender at the lectern. As Benjamin Butler answered, Ginsburg interjected, "That issue is not a necessary part of your case at all, is it?"

Later, when she raised a point that would help Butler's case, Scalia discounted it.

Scalia tends to get the last word on the bench, although Ginsburg tries. During the same case, Patrick Diamond, representing the state, came to the lectern. Scalia pounced after a question from Justice Breyer and started telling the lawyer how he should answer.

"You wouldn't want to say that …, " Scalia began, referring to Breyer's comment and then expounding on his own view. Before Diamond could respond, Chief Justice John Roberts jokingly referred to Scalia's approach. "I think you're handling these questions very well," Roberts quipped.

The audience laughed. Ginsburg did not. "That was not a question addressed to you," she sternly told Diamond of Scalia's statement.

During oral arguments in early December over the rights of Guantanamo detainees, Scalia grilled Seth Waxman, the detainees' attorney. Scalia told him the past rulings he cited were not on point. As Waxman added others, Scalia knocked them down. An exasperated Waxman replied, "I'll take one more chance, Justice Scalia."

"OK, try them," Scalia retorted. "I mean, line them up."

For her part, Ginsburg homed in on U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement, representing the government's position against the foreign detainees. She was, naturally, less flip.

Life outside the court

Such differences, stylistic and substantive, have not hampered their extracurricular life.

Retired chief deputy clerk Lorson notes that other pairs of justices have shared interests, such as the late Harry Blackmun and Potter Stewart, who were baseball fanatics. In one famous incident during oral arguments on Oct. 10, 1973, Stewart slipped Blackmun a note that said, "V.P. AGNEW JUST RESIGNED!! METS 2 REDS 0."

Scalia and former chief justice William Rehnquist played poker together, and Justice Anthony Kennedy and retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor played bridge.

But court insiders, including Lorson, who worked at the marble columned building for more than three decades, say they never have known a pair to share so many outside social and cultural pursuits as Ginsburg and Scalia.

Asked whether he could envision any other twosome spending every New Year's Eve together, Lorson says, "I just can't imagine it."

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