'The Kind of Person You Want to Sit Next to at Dinner'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

“When I introduce an intern to Justice Scalia, I think they're most surprised by meeting him out of any of the justices,” Nina Totenberg, the long-time Supreme Court reporter once told me. (Antonin Scalia died this morning. He was 79.)

Scalia was known for being bold and unapologetic in his legal writing—one recent computer analysis found that among the words he most often used in his decisions were: “utterly,” and “of course.”

“People who meet Justice Scalia are most surprised because he’s such a charming and engaging and fun person,” Totenberg told me in 2014. “He’s the kind of person you want to sit next to at dinner. They have this idea of him as a dour conservative. He is a conservative, but he’s not dour. He has an interesting mind and he’s interested in all kinds of subjects from music to art. And he is very funny.”

My editor, Ross Andersen, shared a similar memory with me: “Justice Scalia came to speak to a small seminar class I took in law school. I disagreed with his politics and his approach to the law, but I was surprised by how playful and charming he was. And his intellect was something to behold, in person.”