Part 1 Student
There were about 20 of us that September morning in 1953, sitting in an Intermediate Greek class listening to a Georgetown professor inform us that there were flush toilets in Crete 2000 years before Christ, when a knock interrupted him. There was a messenger from the administration stating that 6 of us had been mis-assigned; we should be in the Advanced Greek class.
The named students included me and Nino Scalia. On the walk up the block, Nino and I discovered we both had taken 4 years of Latin and 3 of ancient Greek in Jesuit high schools in New York City. Our high school curriculum included Xenophon, Thucydides and Homer. The Advanced Greek class was undertaking the translation of Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus, a very different kind of Greek.
Photo from Xavier High School yearbook
That night we met to do the homework assignment, translating the opening lines. We were too proud to use a trot [for younger readers, “trot” was a slang term for an illicit study aide which spelled out the translation without the student having to work it out]. It took us 3 hours to translate 7 lines, but we got it right. That was my 1st experience with Nino’s laser like focus on getting a job done.
The class was one of the best either us had experienced; the professor, Martin Connor, a Jesuit scholastic, was brilliant We read Sophocles and Demosthenes in the original, translations of a dozen other plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, and a history of ancient Greece. We learned how that culture provided the foundation of Western civilization in virtually every area of human endeavor.
By the time we graduated from Georgetown, we had 8 years of Jesuit education, including 6 years of Latin and 5 of Greek and a mandatory major in Philosophy in addition to whatever other major we chose – truly a classical education. These were the 50s when it was generally acknowledged that the Jesuits were among the finest educators in the world.
It was not until decades later, when the world was a very different place, that I realized the benefit of that education to all who received it. But it was particularly significant if one were an appellate level judge dealing with Constitutional principles. It provided a perspective that put contemporary issues in a historical and philosophical context. More on that later.
Academic rigors notwithstanding, there were plenty of opportunities for extracurricular fun. Georgetown’s dramatic club, the Mask and Bauble Society put on 2 productions every year. Nino was in one as was a young woman who worked at GU, leading to a little known fact: Nino trod the boards with Eileen Brennan. Eileen went on to fame as Little Mary Sunshine, a send-up of the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette McDonald musicals, and had featured roles in movie classics Divorce American Style, Clue, and Private Benjaminwhere she was the irascible top-kick to Goldie Hawn’s hapless enlistee.
At Georgetown, Nino was in Here Comes Mr. Jordan with her. The latter work was redone in the ‘70s as Heaven Can Waitwith Warren Beatty but I prefer the original film with Robert Montgomery. Nino played the James Gleason role. And, to paraphrase Bogart, yes, he was good, very good; later president of the Society.
In his sophomore year, Nino played on an intramural basketball team, the Earthangels[a rock and roll song, which re-emerged as a hit 2 decades later]. The Earthangelswon their league – albeit the Slow League. Nino played a guard slot, now known as Shooting Guard; he had a deadly long range two hand set shot – now known as obsolete.
Nino also was a championship debater, no surprise there.
By some quirk in those days, Georgetown had three debate societies, the Philodemic for juniors and seniors, and two for underclassmen: the Gaston,named after Georgetown’s first student in 1789 and the Whitenamed after Supreme Court Justice Edward White, the author of the anti-trust “rule of reason”, and, at that time, the only Georgetown grad to reach the Supreme Court. Nino was President of the White Society, a portent.
I had never debated in high school but Nino persuaded [read: pressured] me to join and I became caught up in a whirlwind of debate trips. Amazingly, 4 sophomores became the varsity debate team and actually won the NYU Hall of Fame Intercollegiate Tournament over teams from more than 40 universities.
Junior year, Nino spent abroad in Switzerland but returned senior year to graduate first in the class, summa cum laudeand valedictorian. A word on the last honor. A wonderful tradition at Georgetown has the valedictorian not chosen based on grades, but elected by the senior class. Nino ran against two other popular students and won handily – a measure of the feeling his classmates had for him.
Next chapter: Harvard Law School. For a time, I lunched daily with Nino and another fellow, but I soon stopped. These 2 guys would spend the lunch going over their notes from the morning’s classes. Way too zealous for me.
I hated law school and Nino soaked it up. He tried his best to improve my attitude but I simply endured until I could graduate into “the real world.” Nino became an editor of the Law Reviewand he won the Sheldon Fellowship, an unbelievable award. The Sheldon paid the recipient to travel around the world for a year! Imagine the competition for that one.
But his greatest prize came shortly after graduation when he won the hand of Radcliffe graduate, Maureen Fitzgerald McCarthy. What an incredible woman! Nino and Maureen raised 9 wonderful kids who produced 36 grandchildren. Their children include homemakers, attorneys, a priest, a university professor and a West Point grad who served in Iraq, Matt Scalia, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army Rangers. Nino readily and accurately acknowledged that Maureen was the heart and soul of the family.
Nino and I lost touch after law school. I went into trial work, Nino into private practice and then teaching. We re-connected in the 70s.
Before closing down, a few more memories from Georgetown days –
In freshman year, we decided to room together for 2nd year. In those days, the order of room selection was based on a number arrived at by adding the class standing of each of the roommates -the lower the number the better. Nino and I had a total of 3 [a school record at the time] giving us the choice of any room in the sophomore dorm. We chose a large room on the 4th floor with bay windows overlooking the nursing school dorm.
That was “home” during the craziness of the debate season in our sophomore year. One trip demonstrated just how quickly Nino’s mind worked. We were in the car on our way to Dartmouth for a tournament. The faculty moderator and the 4 of us were discussing various argumentative methods. One guy commented on argument by authority, trying to make the point that an argument should stand on its own merits and not claim validity because someone famous said it. He summed up in this manner: “Argument by authority is the weakest, St. Thomas says “
Nino immediately broke into laughter, gasping “St.Thomas says!!!”- nailing his teammate before the rest of us even had a chance to digest the point.
Another forerunner of Nino’s mindset. I got angry with him for some dogmatic statements – “Can’t you say I think or I believe this is so”. His response: “What does that add; of course, I think and believe it or I wouldn’t have said it.”
Nino gave no quarter and asked for none. He was not interested in making a point more palatable to others. It turns out that is a great quality for a judge, to be able to divorce oneself from considerations as to how others might react to a decision, and to make the decision solely on its merits, no matter whom it bothered.
Another debate tournament found us arriving back in our room on a Sunday night, faced with an exam at 9 the next morning. Nino was distressed that we had not studied for it and we would do terribly. I pointed out it was 11 o’clock, the exam was not until 9 AM which gave us 10 hours and we could learn anything in 10 hours . Nino cracked up laughing, we studied, we did get some sleep and we did do well on the test.
Many years later Nino told an audience that I had ruined him for life, that by nature he had been a plan-ahead-methodical guy but that I had inculcated cramming methods into him. He recalled a Monday evening that I came in from some extracurricular activity and asked him what he was studying. He replied he was prepping for the Greek exam.
He claims I was stunned as to why he was working on that when the exam was not until Thursday. Nino told the group “Dick firmly believed that the sooner one started a job the longer it would take.”
Without doubt, the year of putting up with me resulted in his decision to leave the country for junior year abroad.
Part 2 tomorrow Judge and Justice.
Judge Scalia…His great personal energy, the force of his intellect, and the depth of his understanding of our constitutional jurisprudence uniquely qualify him for elevation to our highest court.