Supreme Court justices seldom publish memoirs. But to judge by the never-before-told stories that have come out about Antonin Scalia in the days since his death, his autobiography would have been as compelling as the justice himself.
Vice President Scalia?
The most surprising tale came from former House Speaker John Boehner, who emerged from his post-resignation hibernation to reveal that in 1996, he met with Scalia about the possibility that Bob Dole would choose him as his vice-presidential running mate. Boehner was then the fourth-ranking member of the House Republican leadership, and as he writes in the Independent Journal Review, Scalia agreed to meet for a “clandestine” lunch with Boehner and his chief of staff, Barry Jackson.
It was there that Jackson and I made our pitch, over a pepperoni and anchovies pizza.
Scalia’s reaction was a mixture of amusement and humility, tempered by an underlying seriousness of purpose that reflected his love of country and sense of obligation to it. He asked very direct questions on both the practicality of running — including how a candidacy would impact his role on the Court, what Dole’s reaction would be if he were to express willingness and, ironically, what the impact on the political process might be of a vacancy appearing on the Court in the months before a presidential election.
Scalia was not a man who harbored any thoughts of seeking elective office, which intensified his appeal. But in spite of his personal misgivings, he also understood what was at stake for the country, and felt compelled to listen, out of a sense of duty.
And it was perhaps out of that same sense of duty that Scalia, while not saying “yes,” also didn’t say “no.”
Scalia was already a conservative favorite in 1996 after 10 years on the court, and he certainly would have been an out-of-the-box pick for Dole, who was facing a difficult fight to unseat President Bill Clinton. But the choice would have been incredibly risky for reasons having little to do with the presidency. The Supreme Court back then was nearly as closely divided as it is now, and if Scalia had stepped down from the Supreme Court to run and Clinton still won, Republicans would have lost not only the presidential election but also a reliably conservative seat on the bench.
An Unsolicited Recommendation
Fast-forward to 2009, when President Obama was faced with a vacancy on the Supreme Court just a few months into his term following the retirement of Justice David Souter. At the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner, Scalia was seated alongside David Axelrod, one of the president’s closest advisers. In a piece published on CNN.com on Sunday, Axelrod wrote that Scalia took the opportunity to weigh in on the appointment. “I have no illusions that your man will nominate someone who shares my orientation,” the justice told him. “But I hope he sends us someone smart.”