On Feb. 13, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. At age 79, the justice was stricken by a heart attack, in between a weekend stay at Cibolo Creek Ranch in Texas. Having served the Supreme Court since 1986, Scalia’s syringe-like wit, indented the ways American laws are skinned and shaped. He insisted that the Constitution should only be opened with the intentions of founding fathers, however disfavored the position might become.
Scalia’s death not only signaled suffocations by headlines. It also, unsurprisingly, shunted open the worst parts of the internet. Twitter captions of the justice’s death have followed every line of cynicism, with some attempting to slap down ten-cent quotes, such as “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead”—to the more pragmatic that skipped condolences to strategize on who would be best qualified to fill Scalia’s seat.
Yet, amid upstart commentators, one voice has been separate from stridency: that of Scalia’s fellow Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
They took different directions in their readings. Ginsberg’s views are liberal, while Scalia maintained a conservative lens. However, their differences never polarized their friendship. Rather than scarfing the idea of a new justice who might align more with her own views, Ginsberg has unwrapped the news of Scalia’s death with sorrow. They had been, in her words, “best buddies.”
Ginsberg’s sorrow, I think, is important. It points to a civility that our internet age twists too much to grip well. Here, discussions of “hard things” seem to result in voices parched from shouting matches, or avoidance of them.
In their interpretations of the law, Ginsberg and Scalia were separated, as recently as last year’s ruling on same-sex marriage. However, they still maintained their tradition of spending New Year’s Eve together, enfolding holidays with their families. They unfailingly gossiped together about their shared appreciation for opera.
The friendship between Ginsberg and Scalia is a needful example. It is possible to have sharp differences, without throwing daggers into your neighbor. It is possible to respect the opponent of your position, to have him as what Ginsberg describes. “It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.”