Few who follow politics could argue that one of the cuter friendships in public life was that of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Antonin Scalia.
Both associate justices on the Supreme Court, this pair of friends found little to agree upon. Comically, even their appearances and personalities found themselves at polar opposites of the spectrum. Scalia was a staunch constitutional originalist, a conservative, a devout Catholic and a boisterous personality on the bench. A mirror image, Ginsburg is a living constitutionalist, a liberal, Jewish and taciturn in temperament.
Despite their differences both in jurisprudence and politics, the two formed a friendship that began days before Ginsburg took her post on the bench in August of 1993 and ended upon the death of Justice Scalia in February of this year. No longer able to defend himself or his views, Ginsburg could have excoriated her recently deceased friend like some who agree with her chose to. Many who disagreed with Scalia penned vituperate quasi-obituaries; an example of which is Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote in the New Yorker, “[Scalia] devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy.”
Instead, Ginsburg abstained from such jeering and tomato throwing, delivering a touching eulogy for her friend at his funeral rich with quips regarding his well-known personality and sense of humor. Almost a year later, she has never publicly mentioned her colleague save for when she has been prompted. In her eulogy, Ginsburg and Scalia’s disagreements seldom came to the surface. Instead she chose to discuss their times at the opera or pieces of advice he gave her. These two did not anathematize one another or see each other’s political or legal views as a hindrance to their relationship. When they could have been arguing judicial philosophy, they attended the opera together. They could have been pleasant work colleagues, never meeting outside the court. Instead, they and their families made a tradition of sharing dinner every New Year’s Eve. Their differences in opinion bolstered a friendship that spanned two decades without, according to Justice Scalia, ever raising their voices.
These two legal titans undoubtedly had a remarkable friendship. It is made far more remarkable when one takes into account the ever-waning state of civility in our political system. I fear that Scalia’s death serves as a portent for how those on different sides of the aisle will treat one another in the future. Can one imagine two staunch ideologues of the Senate ever forming a deep personal bond despite differing views on how to make our republic a better place?
A scenario that has never taken place: A tired Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders retire to a tavern near the senate for a cordial drink, arm in arm, after a day of civilly debating substantive issues. In the history of the country, a time does not come to mind when both sides of the political divide have had such a propensity for obfuscation and personal attack. The real danger comes when the venality of the current zeitgeist bleeds over into the common discourse of the polity. A dearth in the moral quality and magnanimity of a politician is to be expected. Since the dawn of democracy, it has been the job of the social critic and the common man alike to remonstrate with their elected officials. Today, however, we spend our time forcefully critiquing people instead of their ideas.
It seems to me much more efficacious to grapple with ideas instead of people. We must strongly denounce dissatisfactory ideas. But remember to hold on to the people who may harbor these ideas because those people may be your mother, or your sister or your dear friend. The involution of ideas we allow in our own lives can only lead to places no one truly wants to go: loneliness, intransigence and cynicism.
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