A Moment Of Civility

Feb 20, 2016
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The week of mourning that followed the death of Justice Antonin Scalia has been a reminder of a different kind of time in Washington. Scalia was a brilliant man, a philosopher controversial for some of his theories about the living or dead Constitution. He did not think the Constitution was a living document. He was a great writer, remembered for scorching and quotable opinions and dissents of the court, a real rough customer on issues he felt strongly about, clearly enjoying the power a conservative court majority gave to a conservative thinker of his caliber. But he was also a jolly, joking man who had friends all along the political spectrum who will be very much missed by people who agreed with his every word and people who decidedly did not. When Scalia died, conversations immediately began about what kind of person the president might appoint to the high court to take his place. That always happens. But as you heard, there were even more sudden assertions about Republican leaders in the Senate that the current president would not be permitted to name that person. The Democrats got into the argument, and everyone talked out of turn. Apart from that, which was not really about Justice Scalia himself, most everyone reacted to his loss with respect and affection. Everyone behaved pretty well, high praise considering the way things have been going this election year. And Justice Scalia's own personality and character had a great deal to do with that. So many of our leaders these days have no respect for public people who privately remain friends with folks who don't see things the same way. Justice Scalia was a man who liked to hang on to his disagreeable friends, happy to leave work and go out for big dinners with some of those people, people like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who disagreed with almost all of Scalia's views on the Constitution. But that did not stop them from spending time together. She described the two of them as best buddies. They went to the opera together. They had been good friends for decades. Scalia had a gift for friendship. That seems to be the element that has almost gone from Washington these days. It showed up after a long absence this week, and it made a difference, something as simple and essential as friendship, something that sweetens conversations and memories and makes a life on the attack look like a major waste of time and energy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.