OPED: Scalia and Ginsburg's friendship wasn't at all 'unlikely'

Tribune News Service
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s courtroom chair is draped in black to mark his death as part of a tradition that dates to the 19th century, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, at the Supreme Court in Washington. Scalia died Saturday at age 79. He joined the court in 1986 and was its longest-serving justice. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Following the death of conservative Supreme Court titan Antonin Scalia, progressives largely stuck to the Latin maxim de mortuis nil nisi bonum, or "Of the dead, nothing unless good." (There were, sadly, some predictable exceptions.)

Finding difficulty singing the praise of such an ardent opponent of, say, racial preferences, the left instead found goodness in Scalia's relationship with other progressives. Most notably, stories about Scalia's longtime relationship with fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were retold, coloring the conservative with a humanity the left often found lacking in his withering dissents.

After the shocking news of Scalia's death spread, CNN, the New York Daily News, Yahoo, BuzzFeed, and the Daily Mail quickly posted stories about how "unlikely" Ginsburg and Scalia's friendship was.

True, Scalia once called the duo of New Yorkers the "oddest of couples." But for those on the outside, there's nothing at all "unlikely" about a friendship that spans ideological differences. If someone thinks having a dear friend of a different political persuasion renders that relationship "unlikely," that person would be best served to go out and make some new friends.

Ginsburg herself has said her relationship with Scalia was often difficult. Following a 2004 death penalty case in which Scalia savaged the Court majority in a typically aggressive dissent, Ginsburg said, "I love him. But sometimes I'd like to strangle him."

Most of us have people in our lives that we'd often like to pile-drive, but who we deeply revere. That doesn't make our relationships at all "unlikely," it makes them the norm. Granted, there may be added stress on ideological opponents whose job it is to publicly take the bark off one another in written opinions. But my newspaper's editorial board often writes pieces that make my eyes roll out of my head — and yet there has never been a terse word spoken between us.

I certainly don't want to hold myself up as any kind of standard of purity on this measure, however — I often fall short of this bipartisanship standard. Sometimes, I'll hear an acquaintance say something so backward, so outright false, that I mutter to myself, "how can I ever be friends with someone who believes something like that?"

Clearly, Ginsburg wrestled with this in her relationship with Scalia. "I was fascinated by him because he was so intelligent and so amusing," she once said. "You could still resist his position, but you just had to like him."

That doesn't mean one has to adhere to this standard when others aren't being intelligent or amusing. When I heard of Scalia's death, I was at one of my kids' basketball games, and when I let the nearby parents know, one pumped his fist and yelled, "this is great!" The news already had me feeling like I had been punched in the stomach — his antics made me want to reciprocate the sensation.

I'd like to think, however, the parent's celebration was a matter of personal boorishness and not ideology. Just last week, the Capital Times in Madison, Wis., ran a story about what it's like being a conservative in heavily liberal Madison, and how people frequently adapt their relationships to preserve comity. In anonymous corners of cities all over America, Scalia-Ginsburg relationships blossom without the glare of media coverage.

The bottom line is, as real people wandering around and bumping into each other in the world, we share about 98 percent of the experience of being humans. If the remaining political 2 percent forces you out of a friendship, then you are the one that's poorer as a result.