Judge Antonin Scalia with wife Maureen McCarthy Scalia.Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

I met Justice Antonin Scalia last summer under unusual circumstances. A friend and I attended the celebration hosted by Moet Hennesey of Lafayette’s arrival in America to aid the American revolutionary cause.

It took place at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, and the great and good of America and France were there. Richard Hennessy, an Irishman had helped Washington and Lafayette become friends and allies and the night was also a celebration of that.

I found myself standing beside Scalia as we gazed on the replica of the L’Hermione afloat on the wide Potomac.
Scalia was standing beside fellow Justice Stephen Breyer and my friend and we introduced ourselves.

When he heard the Irish accent Scalia immediately became animated.”My wife is Maureen McCarthy you know,“ He said jovially. “I’ve probably been to more Irish dance recitals than you.”

It was all news to me, I always  thought of Scalia as the embodiment of everything Italian including achieving the incredible feat of being the first Italian American to be named to the court.

He took time to ask me what I did for a living and a lively discussion on the future of the publishing world followed. Irrespective of his politics he came across as a deeply charming and humorous man who wore the badge of his office lightly.

Judge Anthony Scalia at the University of Galway where he taught a course in American law in 2008. Credit: nesl.edu

Judge Anthony Scalia at the University of Galway where he taught a course in American law in 2008. Credit: nesl.edu

The Irish step dancing reminded him of growing up in Queens, New York, his Irish neighbors and his high school marched every year in the St.Patrick's Parade he remembered proudly.

Another accomplished Irish dancer is Chief Justice Roberts whose wife Jane Sullivan, also has deep Irish roots, loves to attend ceili dancing nights and it is said Scalia sometimes came along with wife Maureen.

Scalia was known to frequent Irish bars for nightcab. Once in Moscow according to floridapolitics.com Scalia set out to find the only Irish bar in Moscow.

“One night, (Scalia) decides he wants to go to an Irish bar,” said lawyer and former head of American Bar Association Sandy D’Alemberte, who lives in Tallahassee. “One had just opened up, but it was on the other side of Moscow and there were no cabs running that night.

“Well, he had heard if you hold up a pack of Marlboros, someone driving by might stop and give you a ride,” he said.

“Hopefully, you were able to communicate just enough to explain where you wanted to go.

“So we brought cartons of Marlboros,” D’Alemberte added. “It worked. We got a ride there and back.”

D’Alemberte remembered Scalia as, well, being a blast as a drinking buddy: 

“He wasn’t at all stuck up that he was a Supreme Court justice.”

Scalia was also a devout Roman Catholic, (one of six on the Supreme Court) and his son, Paul, is a Catholic priest. He was father of nine, grandfather of 28. 

Uncomfortable with the changes brought about following Vatican II, Scalia drove long distances to parishes that he felt were more in accord with his beliefs, such as the Tridentine Latin Mass in both Chicago and Washington and also the Latin version of the Mass of Paul VI at St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls, Virginia.

In a 2013 interview with Jennifer Senior for New York magazine, Scalia was asked if his beliefs extended to the Devil, Scalia stated, "Of course! Yeah, he's a real person. Hey, c'mon, that's standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that". When asked if he had seen recent evidence of the Devil, Scalia replied, "You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He's making pigs run off cliffs, he's possessing people and whatnot ... What he's doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He's much more successful that way".

In another 2013 interview, Scalia stated that "In order for capitalism to work, in order for it to produce a good and stable society, traditional Christian virtues are essential.”

May he rest in peace.