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Saturday, February 13, 2016

When I Questioned Antonin Scalia One on One

In honor of the man, and the judge, after his passing earlier today...

I met then-newbie Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia personally in 1989. I was a college student (Brooklyn College); Scalia's father had been a Brooklyn College professor in prior decades. And Scalia and I were both "Sons of Xavier," fellow graduates of the renowned Jesuit high school that is still on Manhattan's West 16th Street.

I got a few minutes to question Scalia about the Constitution, with the understanding -- and his permission -- that this would be on the record. I was on the college's primary newspaper, the Kingsman. 

(Side note: Three of my colleagues back then have gone on to illustrious journalism careers -- Michael McAuliffe with Huffington Post, Rich Calder with the New York Post, and Glenn Thrush with Politico. We all have taken the long trip.)

My sharpest memory was not of constitutional theory. It was that Scalia was one hell of a chain smoker. The room was full of a haze. It was truly a smoke-filled back room. There was so much smoke, you'd think the College of Cardinals had just elected a new Pope. 

I do remember that Scalia kept talking about strict interpretation of the Constitution. He felt it was important for the judiciary to respect its own boundaries, to interpret the Constitution but only restrain the legislature (or executive) when the Constitution was clearly overstepped. 

And finally, I can add that Scalia was genial, a younger man back then (52). Very few would have taken the time he did that day to talk to a then-newbie college journalist. He had class, and his ideological detractors never understood that. 

Eric Dixon is a New York-based lawyer, strategic consultant and blockchain technology application (FinTech) developer. He can be reached at

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