POLITICS

Antonin Scalia Actually Rooted For Elena Kagan's Nomination

Scalia and Kagan forged a friendship as duck hunting buddies.

Antonin Scalia may have been a reliably conservative justice on the Supreme Court, but his personal preferences were a little more surprising. 

Less than a day after Scalia's death, David Axelrod, in a CNN blog post, shared a little-known anecdote about the 79-year-old justice: He was pulling for the nomination of liberal Justice Elena Kagan.

As President Barack Obama's senior advisor at the time, Axelrod recalled Scalia bending his ear over who should replace the retiring Justice David Souter while the two were tablemates at the 2009 White House Correspondents' Dinner.

"I have no illusions that your man will nominate someone who shares my orientation. But I hope he sends us someone smart," Scalia said, according to Axelrod. "Let me put a finer point on it. I hope he sends us Elena Kagan."

Scalia and Kagan were a generation apart in age and on opposite poles ideologically. But the two had common backgrounds growing up in immigrant families in New York City, attending Harvard Law School and later teaching at the University of Chicago.

"They shared an intellectual rigor and a robust sense of humor," Axelrod said. "And if Scalia could not have a philosophical ally in the next court appointee, he had hoped, at least, for one with the heft to give him a good, honest fight."

Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Souter, but Kagan was eventually confirmed to the high court in 2010, replacing retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Following news of Scalia's death, Kagan reflected on her time with "Nino" and said he would "go down in history as one of the most transformational Supreme Court Justices of our nation."

"I admired Nino for his brilliance and erudition, his dedication and energy, and his peerless writing," she said. "And I treasured Nino’s friendship: I will always remember, and greatly miss, his warmth, charm, and generosity."

While seated together on the bench, Scalia and Kagan seemed to have differing views on how to interpret the Constitution: he favored originalism; she appears to hold a more forward-looking vision. But they still had a close friendship that led to the two becoming hunting buddies. 

During her confirmation, Kagan sought address NRA concerns over her lack of familiarity with gun culture by pledging to seek Scalia's guidance during duck hunting. 

When the two appeared together at a 2014 forum organized by the University of Mississippi School of Law, Scalia spoke to the close friendships on the politically divided court: "If you can't disagree on the law without taking it personally, find another day job."

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