Wednesday, March 29, 2006

C'mon, Nino, 'fess up

Justice Scalia is fighting back against reports that he made an obscene gesture to a reporter who accosted him leaving Sunday Mass. Scalia, as everyone knows by now, made a gesture consisting of flicking his fingers out from underneath his chin.

Is this gesture really that obscure? I remember learning it when I was a kid -- for the record, I'm Irish-Scottish-Ukranian-Polish-English with a hint of Jewish. Not an Italian bone in my body. So learning this isn't limited to Italian families. There was the chin flick, the middle finger, and the fist-to-elbow (someone else has heard of this one, right?). All of these were obscene -- granted, the middle finger was the worst, but Mom was not happy to see us performing one of the other two gestures. Why? Because they were rude. I always figured rude meant obscene when I was a kid. There are words you don't say and things you don't do. Does it really make a difference whether it was "obscene" or rude? It seems to me that Scalia was definitely rude. So why the fuss?

Maybe it's the negative connotation of "obscene" with hardcore pornography. Scalia, a good Catholic, certainly wouldn't want to be associated with porn! Or maybe it's the free speech exception carved out for obscenity -- if obscenity can be regulated, then in some states the gesture might have even been illegal (though Scalia was surely safe in liberal Massachussetts -- not to mention, I certainly wouldn't want to be the DA who prosecutes a Supreme Court Justice).

But I think Scalia is just chickening out.

Come on! "Obscene," "dismissive" -- aren't we really just niggling here? Scalia was rude. As an extremely important public figure, he's certainly used to reporters thrusting microphones in his general direction, and he can hardly claim never to have put them to his own uses. Bottom line is, Scalia doesn't want to appear like some uptight Hollywood celebrity (virtually all of whom are liberal, unlike Scalia) who can't handle a little spotlight. Clearly he was offended by the question (asking about the reaction of some to his conservative Catholic beliefs) and couldn't think of anything clever to say in response. Anger does that sometimes.

So what's the big deal? Why does Scalia feel like he needs to be better than everyone else? Scalia loses his temper -- why pretend? In fact, my own limited experience meeting Scalia shows he might have quite a short fuse.

During my 1L year, one of my favorite professors announced an exciting surprise: Justice Scalia would be a special guest in an upcoming class! There's very little that's more exciting to an ambitious law student than the chance to meet a Supreme Court Justice.

Sure enough, later in the week the Justice himself is mere feet away from my chair. Excited, I make sure to take notes of everything he and the professor said. After introductions, the professor got on with the lecture. Within five minutes, Scalia had interrupted him, telling him he was getting it wrong.

Keep in mind, this particular professor is brilliant. He's argued dozens of cases in front of the Supreme Court and used to work for the Attorney General. He's a well-respected professor at the very school Scalia used to teach at. He's hardly some dumbshit who wanders into Civ Pro not knowing what he's talking about. He is, however, liberal.

He also has one of the assets lacked by roughly 99% of lawyers and law professors out there: genuine humility. In his typical "aw shucks" manner, he indulges Scalia's rant and invites the Justice to share his thoughts on the issue. I don't even remember what the issue was, but, frankly, the professor made more sense to me when he explained it. After Scalia's rant, the professor respectfully tries to steer us back on course to the lecture he had planned. Mere moments later, Scalia dismissively says, "looks like you've got this covered" and walks out of the classroom.

That's it.

No, "thanks for inviting me." No Q&A for the students. No offer, even, to shake his hand. He just up and walks out.

The professor, sweet and smiley as always, tries to make a joke out of the *very uncomfortable* situation by teasing us, "don't worry; I don't think it was you." The class chuckles and relaxes a bit.

But I'll always think Scalia is an ass, even if he feels the need to mince words to get me down to "meanie."


At March 29, 2006 at 8:53 PM, Blogger JCA said...

Rude? Rude is the fact that hizzoner keeps hanging out in my neighborhood and yet steadfastly refuses to take me out for a drink.

Baffangullo to the naysayers!

At March 29, 2006 at 9:41 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

jca -- ha! Says something huge, I think, about the man's taste in friends. I'd be far more honored to take you out for a drink in Boawwwston than any old judicial higher-up. (muah)

At March 29, 2006 at 9:54 PM, Anonymous Rich said...

I feel it's easier to respond to this post than the male rant. Odd, isn't it?

The Professor to whom you refer told me this story recently (related to Moot Court) and made it clear that Scalia was dead wrong on the point he was arguing. The student got the issue wrong (a very complicated one, he admitted) and the Prof did his normal "make the student seem smarter but still get the right info out" thing. Scalia disagreed, Prof did what he does, and Scalia left in a huff.

So yes, he's a big meanie. I agree. Maybe it's because he's a guy who has not come out on the record saying he's a good oralist, if you catch my drift. Nudge nudge, know what I mean know what I mean?

At March 30, 2006 at 7:48 AM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

Rich, it's so hot when you quote Monty Python. And, come on, you don't want to bash men with me??

I would like to think that for that brief moment where Prof. Wonderful and I were both relating that story, we shared a corner of the universe... sigh...

At March 30, 2006 at 9:26 PM, Anonymous Rich said...

Far be it from me to male-bash...especially when I only have one of the three "ubiquitous" fantasies you suggest. I'll fill you in on the others sometime. In any event, I'm not going to defend the creepy guy, or argue with most of your points, but there are some decent (and decently talented in ways you like) guys out there. Maybe more than 2.

At March 30, 2006 at 9:32 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

Fair enough, Rich. There are definitely decent men out there -- but I'm allowed a bitch-out every once in a while. I'd cite the 75 cents statistic but it sounds admittedly hollow coming from me. Suffice it to say, I've unfortunately had to deal with more than my fair share of indecent dudes in my lifetime.

And I'm intrigued about these "other" fantasies...

At March 31, 2006 at 1:21 PM, Blogger odderie said...

I'm sad now that I've never had Professor Teddy Bear. :(:(:(:(

When I asked him if he wanted a cookie at the Musical, he was very sweet. I kinda understand the Professor Teddy Bear crush now. :)

At March 31, 2006 at 4:58 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

odderie, it's not a crush. It's a love affair.



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