I’m Going to Call the Authorities!

“Tony Scalia, here!”

That’s what I heard on the other end of the line, coming to me from across the continent.

Let me back up.

You can guess that I appreciate good writing. I appreciate it when I read  Christian writers. I appreciate it when I read non-Christian writers. And I appreciate it when I read it in my profession. Especially when I read it in my profession. It can be pure drudgery to have to read some turgid legal treatise or opinion, knowing that the information I need must be in there somewhere as I slog along in hopes the misery will soon end. Yet you’d be surprised how many fantastic writers there are in the legal field, too.

One of them is United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. When he writes an opinion, every word is there because he intends it to be there. Nothing slips by and lands  on the page by accident. There is nothing sloppy about his word-craft. The best opinions, from a purely literary point of view, are his dissents. Those are the ones I will seek out and read sometimes even if they are on a subject that has zero chance of landing in my courtroom.

After I’d been on the bench a couple of years, I was reading one of those dissents and came across a particularly well-written portion and thought, “I wonder if I can call the Supreme Court and let Justice Scalia know how much I appreciate that? No harm in trying.”

So I did. Call the U.S. Supreme Court, that is. The main number went to a switchboard operator who asked how she could direct my call.

“Justice Scalia’s chambers, please.” I half expected my call to be dropped right there. After all, anyone with legitimate business with a member of the Supreme Court probably already has the direct line to chambers, right?

“One moment.”

Oh. OK, then. So far, so good.

“Justice Scalia’s chambers,” another woman said quite pleasantly. “May I help you?”

I gave her my name and explained I was a trial judge from California and that I wondered if Justice Scalia might be available. Next thing I knew, a booming voice came down the line.

“Tony Scalia, here!”

The details might bore you, but suffice to say that this was a great phone call!

Calling the Top

There’s an even better call we can make, though. It’s the one that comes through faith by God’s grace. For the Bible says that the “Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Romans 10:12-13.)

Everyone who calls. Everyone. Every. single. one.

And when we see him face to face, the words will be “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21.) Much better – and more impressive by far – than even a Supreme Court justice hailing a greeting down the phone line.

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17 Responses to I’m Going to Call the Authorities!

  1. lauradroege says:

    How cool that Justice Scalia took your call. . . . How much cooler that God answers every single call we make, even if the answers aren’t what I think they should look or sound like (like I sometimes do when I’m really wrestling with Him over things in my life). Thank you for the reminder!

  2. Welllll, I knew you’d had a phone chat with the Justice, but had no idea how it came to be. Thanks so much for sharing, Tim! I can’t believe it was as easy as that to reach him! Clearly, that goes to show that hardly anyone is gutsy enough to try. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Not only that, Anne, but I even called him a few years later and he picked up the phone and said “Judge Fall! How are you doing?”

      Then a couple years ago one of our research attorneys had a trip to DC coming up and I asked if she’d like to meet Justice Scalia. I called him and he said he’d not only meet her, but get her passes into oral argument. It turned out she sat in the family section, a place reserved for family and friends of the justices. Her seat had a nameplate reading “Mrs. Kennedy” for Anthony Kennedy’s wife, and she sat next to a couple of school chums of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The research attorney brought me back a mug from the Supreme court gift shop that she had Justice Scalia sign for me. It’s on my shelf right next to my desk here in chambers.

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Great article…but I’m dying to hear about your conversation. I love to hear about people in public positions who still have some humility. Scalia condescended to take your call, and our great, high God condescends, and even asks us to call upon him. Even more amazingly, our great Mediator Jesus Christ is continually interceding on our behalf. Great thoughts, Tim.

    • Tim says:

      The way that God not only wants us to call upon him but is constantly with us out of his own desire to be in our company is astounding.

      As for conversations with Justice Scalia, let’s just say that I admitted to him that I was a gushing fan of his writing, he laughed, and we talked about being able to put thoughts down on paper and have them come out well. He chuckled as he said there is a certain satisfaction that comes from achieving the mot juste. (I was tickled that he had enough confidence in me to use French as we spoke together!)

  4. Jeannie says:

    Liked this post. In a world where people tend to focus on complaints (“I’m going to write to the CEO of McDonald’s because my last Big Mac wasn’t at optimum temperature”) it’s important to tell people when we appreciate something they’ve done/said — both those in authority and those in more humble positions. I bet Justice Scalia was very surprised to have a caller expressing appreciation rather than grumbling about something or wanting something from him.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Jeannie. Can you imagine how much criticism those justices must hear? I get a fair share of it from people who don’t agree with – and probably don’t really understand – rulings I make, and I’m just a local trial judge.

      On that fast food thing, did you read about the Subway Scandal. Turns out some of the franchisees were putting out 11″ subs and calling them foot-longs. Oh the horror!

  5. Your excitement over speaking to Justice Scalia is not so hard for me to imagine, since I feel that way every time you leave a comment on my little blog!

    And you too, Jeannie! You’re both awesome. 🙂

  6. Lesley says:

    It’s nice to hear there are people in positions of authority who are so kind and humble and normal. Fun story, Tim!

    • Tim says:

      He was good-humored too, Lesley, kind of made me chuckle as we spoke. I’ve heard that often those who reach the heights of their field are among the most personable as well. He sure seemed to bear that out.

  7. What a GREAT story!

    I’ll bet you made his day. Seriously. I wonder how many encouraging phone calls he gets in a day. Usually people go out of their way to complain rather than compliment.

    • Tim says:

      Probably true, Rachel. I know I appreciate getting a pat on the back. Just the other day my wife read me a text she received from a former co-worker who had been in my courtroom for jury selection (but got excused). It was nice to hear that she appreciated the way I ran things.

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