Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were close friends. In a climate of bitter party rancor, there was something comforting about that. Seeing this odd couple, the portly, vaguely mischievous Scalia alongside the slight, elegant Ginsburg was more than just good gossip for court watchers. It offered us hope. After all, if the notorious liberal and the infamous conservative were friends, what’s stopping the rest of us? And in an era where the politicization of the Court threatens its credibility, this unexpected friendship is sorely missed. Now the new man in Scalia’s seat, Neil Gorsuch may offer the best prospect for forming a new “odd couple” in this divided court.
The friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg would surprise many, but it was real. As Justice Ginsburg wrote in an article after Scalia’s death, they were “best buddies.” This, despite finding themselves as vocal opponents in the most contentious cases of recent history, from guns, to gay rights, to abortion. Ginsburg, a Jew from the Bronx and a longstanding progressive, has consistently advocated for greater access and expanded protections for women and minorities. Scalia, a devout Catholic from New Jersey was the quintessential conservative, appealing to tradition and rejecting the “new” rights demanded by Ginsburg. Yet they came to care deeply for each other, demonstrating that mutual respect can still rise above ideological disagreement.
Now that Justice Gorsuch has taken his seat on the court, his impact will be instantly felt - shifting the Court back to a 5-4 conservative majority. But how will he affect the culture of the Court? Based on the public words of his contemporaries, including Obama solicitor general, Neal Katyal, the new man is marked by decency and fairness. Gorsuch, a well-mannered Coloradan, certainly appears a more obvious candidate for cordiality than the outspoken Scalia. Beyond disposition, he has a number of incentives to do so - whether it’s to win support for his future opinions, to improve the image of the court, or just to follow in the lead of the man he so admired. Natural friendships, however, are far too complex to predict. Still, the image of the rangy Gorsuch (6’6”) taking a night off with the iconic Ginsburg or Justice Kagan (nicknamed “Shorty” by Thurgood Marshall) presents an image that I think we’d all like to see.