Justice Antonin Scalia – that time we chatted on the phone

[United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died this past weekend. His family and friends mourn, while people along the political spectrum either hope for a replacement just like him or one diametrically opposed to his jurisprudence. I wrote this archived post not about his judicial decisions (which I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with depending on the case) but about that time I got up the nerve to call him, and about another call that is even more important to me.

I welcome comments, but please refrain from judgments on Scalia. His work is not what this post is about. And remember that his family mourns his passing deeply.]


“Antonin 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.

U.S. Supreme Court (Wikimedia)

U.S. Supreme Court

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

Justice Scalia

Justice Scalia

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 (the case name and topic are long-forgotten) 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!”

He not only took my call but spent time chatting, not as if I was a nobody from a tiny court in a rural county in California but as one colleague to another.

He encouraged me in our profession and I found that his phone line was still open to me when I called him a few more times over the years, sometimes to talk law and once just to ask if he wouldn’t mind if one of my law clerks poked her head in while she was in Washington. He not only said yes to meeting her, but asked if she’d like him to set aside a seat for her to watch a Supreme Court oral argument. She sat in the section set aside for the justices’ families.

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.

“The same 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.


Every. single. one.

The line is open. Call, and be saved. And enjoy your place in God’s family.


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17 Responses to Justice Antonin Scalia – that time we chatted on the phone

  1. Carol Noren Johnson says:

    Love your nerve to pick up the phone and call!

    Every day I get the SUPREME wisdom from Scripture. Since Feb 1 I have been posting Scripture on FB and probably will through Easter.

  2. Sergius Martin-George says:

    How come he referred to himself as Tony and not Nino?

    • Tim says:

      I wondered the same thing. Perhaps Nino is for those closest to him? Or perhaps I misheard “Antonin” as “Tony” over the phone line. In any case, I edited the post to avoid the distraction.

  3. Jeannie says:

    Such a great story, Tim! I’ve been reading David Brooks’ book The Road to Character, in which he profiles a number of famous or once-famous figures and how their character developed. It strikes from your description me that Justice Scalia (regardless of his stance on issues) had a good character: firm principles, clear judgment, and respect for everyone he met regardless of their status.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve read others who were also – like me – not of any professional or political stature and they say he was quite gracious with them as well.

  4. Eric Fry says:

    What a great story, Tim. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. Pingback: My Picks for Monday 2-15-2016 | Life on the Bridge

  6. Laura Droege says:

    When I heard of Scalia’s passing, I remembered this story of yours, Tim. Quite incredible. But it’s even more incredible that we have 24/7 access to our Lord, and we take it for granted!

  7. SJBeals says:

    I would have never thought to call someone like that because, like you, I would assume they wouldn’t answer. What a treat to speak to someone with that experience. Good for you, Tim!

    • Tim says:

      And it’s so like what I hear some people say about prayer, Sarah. “Why would God want to listen to me?” The simple answer is “Because he does.”

  8. Julie Walsh says:

    Hey Tim. I too loved Scalia’s writing. I never met him, but I heard him speak probably three times. Seemed very humble and personable. I was describing one dissent of his I read to someone on Saturday and said that he was so good at hilariously cutting through all the legal gobbledygook!

  9. Bill M says:

    It sounds like Scalia was not someone who became unpleasant and proud of his position. Thanks Tim, it is a nice story and a good testimony to the man.

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