Justices Scalia and Ginsburg were friends – why is it so hard for Republicans and Democrats?
You may have heard about the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. These days it almost feels rare to hear a public figure spoken of with such reverence by leaders from both sides of the aisle (and across popular culture). But we observed that with the passing of John Lewis weeks ago and now with the passing of associate justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the age of 87.
From Hillary Clinton to Kevin McCarthy, Barack Obama to Donald Trump, the praise of a life well lived and Justice Ginsburg’s legacy of conviction and intellectual courage has resounded across the political spectrum in the short hours since her passing.
It is worth recalling the friendship she held with her rival on the court; a titan of the bench Justice Antonin Scalia. It was a deep friendship that went back before their years on the Supreme Court. Back to when they served alongside each other in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Years after being elevated to the Supreme Court, Scalia declared at a roast in her honor
“I have missed Ruth very much since leaving the court of appeals. She was the best of colleagues, as she is the best of friends. I wish her a hundred years…”
Many of us in ordinary American life has finds it impossible to maintain friendship across political differences. Even though the weight of our opinions is not likely to turn the course of our nation’s history on their own.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, however, did indeed find themselves in that rarified position.
Perhaps their ability to hold the tension between their disagreements and their ability to care for each other was a signal. of their worthiness to hold such responsibilities.
Composer Derek Wang actually wrote an opera inspired by the pair’s famous friendship titled Scalia/Ginsburg.
Quoting from the opera upon Scalia’s passing, Ginsburg wrote this in tribute:
“Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh.”
After the initial launch of the opera, and before Scalia’s passing, Ginsburg was asked to explain what made their friendship possible.
“The song that they sang tonight, ‘we are different, we are one,’ I think that captures it.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg believed that our differences do not have to make us enemies. When we are sincere in what we believe, even when we are wrong. The places at which we differ may yet allow us to strengthen our total understanding of what is true. For all of her great accomplishments, this quality of character is also a part of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy.
We honor this at Braver Angels.
Braver Angels seek to depolarize American politics. Our work is rooted in grassroots organizing. From the grassroots, however, our volunteer leaders leverage Braver Angels programs and unique organizing structure to impact community life and American institutions.
Notice: Braver Angels Debate coming up next week, in which you can stand center stage and make your voice heard. On Tuesday the 22nd we will be debating mail-in voting. On Thursday the 24th we’ll be tackling the subject of religious liberty.