The Devil and Antonin Scalia


The conservative Supreme Court justice likes to hire liberals. He’s watched Duck Dynasty. And flogging is not unconstitutional, Antonin Scalia says in a wide-ranging conversation with Jennifer Senior in New York magazine.

The highlights:

  •  The atmosphere in Washington: It’s a nasty time. It’s a nasty time. When I was first in Washington, and even in my early years on this Court, I used to go to a lot of dinner parties at which there were people from both sides. Democrats, Republicans. Katharine Graham used to have dinner parties that really were quite representative of Washington. It doesn’t happen anymore.
  • Crime and punishment: … If a state enacted a law permitting flogging, it is immensely stupid, but it is not unconstitutional. A lot of stuff that’s stupid is not unconstitutional. I gave a talk once where I said they ought to pass out to all federal judges a stamp, and the stamp says—Whack! [Pounds his fist.] — STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL.
  • On hiring liberal law clerks: I like to have one of the four clerks whose predispositions are quite the opposite of mine—who are social liberals rather than social conservatives. That kind of clerk will always be looking for the chinks in my armor, for the mistakes I’ve made in my opinion. That’s what clerks are for—to make sure I don’t make mistakes. The trouble is, I have found it hard to get liberals like that, who pay attention to text and are not playing in a policy sandbox all the time.
  • Gay friends: I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.
  •  What newspapers he reads: I usually skim them. We just get The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. We used to get the Washington Post, but it just … went too far for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore. … It was the treatment of almost any conservative issue. It was slanted and often nasty. And, you know, why should I get upset every morning? I don’t think I’m the only one. I think they lost subscriptions partly because they became so shrilly, shrilly liberal.
  • Yes, he listens to talk radio: You know who my favorite (radio talk guy) is? My good friend Bill Bennett. He’s off the air by the time I’m driving in, but I listen to him sometimes when I’m shaving. He has a wonderful talk show. It’s very thoughtful. He has good callers. I think they keep off stupid people. 
  • Favorite TV shows: I watched one episode of—what is it? Duck Dynasty? … I don’t watch it regularly, but I’m a hunter. I use duck calls. … I watched The Sopranos, I saw a couple of episodes of Mad Men. I loved Seinfeld. In fact, I got some CDs of Seinfeld. ­Seinfeld was hilarious. Oh, boy. The Nazi soup kitchen? No soup for you!
  • Not just ducks: My eldest son married a girl from Louisiana, whose father was an avid hunter. He got me into deer hunting up in Mississippi. There, I fell in with some Cajuns—including Louis Prejean, the brother of Sister Prejean. He’s as conservative as she is liberal. … I got in with them, and I got into goose hunting, duck hunting, redfish fishing—it has been a great addition to my later years. It gets me outside the Beltway with people of the sort I had never known before. They could live in the woods. Give ’em a gun, they could survive in the woods on their own. It’s nice to get in with a different crowd. None of them are lawyers. Or very few.
  • Another pastimeI’m a damn good poker player.
  •  No F-bombs, ladies: One of the things that upsets me about modern society is the coarseness of manners. You can’t go to a movie—or watch a television show for that matter—without hearing the constant use of the F-word—including, you know, ladies using it. People that I know don’t talk like that! But if you portray it a lot, the society’s going to become that way. It’s very sad.
  • It’s the Devil you know: I even believe in the Devil. … Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.