Supreme Court ideological opposites Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, came together for a discussion on constitutional issues Thursday night, but their camaraderie and escapades stole the show.
“Why don’t you call us the odd couple?” Scalia began, in a wide ranging conversation that included what really happened before Ginsburg attended the State of the Union, their thoughts on the Constitution as well as their habit of vacationing with each other. Scalia told a story about how they spent time together in the South of France once and Ginsburg decided to go parasailing.
“Ruth – honest to goodness – went up behind a motor boat,” he said, “I mean she’s so light you would think she would never come down. I would not do that.”
Ginsburg was a bit more revealing. She spoke about a trip to India where they rode atop an elephant.
“It was a rather bumpy ride,” she said. Scalia proceeded to cut short her story: “Some of her feminist friends gave me a hard time because she rode behind me on the elephant,” he said.
Then Ginsburg interrupted, “The driver explained it was a matter of distribution of weight.”
The event was hosted by The Smithsonian Associates and moderated by NPR’s Nina Totenberg. Totenberg brought up the 1996 case United States v. Virginia Military Institute. Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion striking down the all-male admissions policy of the state school. Scalia dissented.
He began to defend himself recalling that Virginia had a military college for women.
“Far inferior in every way,” Ginsburg interjected. She added, however, that Scalia was kind enough to give her an advance copy of his dissent.
She said she read this “spicy dissent” and it “ruined her weekend” but that it made her final opinion better.
Totenberg tried to move the conversation to a discussion about Scalia’s notion that the Constitution is not a so called “living” evolving document.
“Yeah, I have to get a better word then ‘dead’,” he said and then went on to explain that he believes the Constitution is an enduring document not meant to be subject to “whimsical change.”
Ginsburg countered that the founders filled the document with “grand ideas” that were meant to develop as society developed.
They touched on same-sex marriage and Ginsburg remarked that the swift change in the country over the last few years is a result in part of people saying, “this is who I am, take me for what I am.”
Finally they got to the State of the Union. Earlier in the evening, Scalia had expressed his disdain for the event that he stopped attending years ago. And Ginsburg admitted, that once again, she fell asleep, “as I often do.”
“The audience for the most part is awake because they are bobbing up and down and we sit there, stone faced,” she said. “But we’re not, at least I was not 100% sober,” she said to big applause. She blamed a fine wine Justice Kennedy had brought to dinner before hand.
“I vowed this year — just sparkling water—stay away from the wine — but the dinner was so delicious it needed wine.”
She said when she got home she got a call from one of her granddaughters. “She said, BUBIE, you were sleeping!”