Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Breakfast With The Knight Of Faith

The first thing you notice upon entering Antonin Scalia's lovely Plantation style Virginia mansion is the sheer amount of space devoted to relics from the Spanish Inquisition. Hanging from every wall, drooping from the ceilings, and overflowing from countless antique glass cases are thumbscrews, Spanish boots, pincers, spikes, strappadi, leather trusses, bejeweled stilettos, "Trident" manacles with the optional genital restraints, and vices; vices of every conceivable shape and configuration, stretching off into the distance as far as the eye can see.

Imagine my surprise when, two weeks earlier, one of the many threatening e-mails that I regularly send to public officials was not only answered, but contained an invitation to a "wholesome, traditional breakfast," and was signed: Sincerely, Mrs. Antonin Scalia Esq.

She was adamant about giving her husband the opportunity to explain a quotation of his that has been fodder for agents of the Liberal Agenda for over two decades. In its popular form it usually goes something like this:

"Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached."

"I never said any such thing," said Scalia, who insisted that I call him Nino, and who was already a little groggy from a pre-breakfast palette cleansing that consisted of bourbon and string cheese. "It's the fucking internet. Worse than Sodom or Gomorrah. Goddamn thing is infested with every form of lechery and perversion. And I can tell you, under genuine authority," and here he paused to give me a knowing look,"that most of it is run by Jewish Gaylords and atheist pedophiles." Mrs. Scalia, who stood quietly against a wall during this outburst, leaned forward to wipe flecks of foam from his crimson face.

In all fairness to Nino, the quote, as it usually appears, doesn't exist. What he actually said (or wrote) was:

"... there is no basis in text, tradition, or even in contemporary practice (if that were enough) for finding in the [506 U.S. 390, 428] Constitution a right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction."

Nino is a gregarious, intelligent, funny man, and a gracious host, but if the above quote isn't legalese for the same idea (that actual innocence isn't enough to set someone free) then I'll eat a bug. I said this to him as his ancient Negro butler, Lemuel, wheeled breakfast in on a silver, doily bespattered cart.

"You don't understand, Steve-O, the Constitution is not a living document open to the interpretation of every moral reprobate who managed to squeak through law school at Michigan State."

The breakfast tray consisted of half inch slices of peppered bacon, hollowed out honeycombs filled with grits, wild trout, and molasses soaked black currants, a bottle of Johnny Walker Gold, a bottle of Johnny Walker Green, several shot glasses, a pitcher of deep red wine, a gravy boat filled with mayonnaise, and what appeared to be a battered, deep-fried hedgehog. Nino leaned over, tore off a portion of the hedgehog's face, and, jamming it into the mayonnaise for emphasis said, "The Founding Fathers got it right the first time. I'm just here to make sure they get their way."

Emboldened by wine, anger, and the improbably humid Virginia morning I pointed out the fallacy of thinking that there is any way of dealing with the Constitution that doesn't involve interpretation; that there is any way of accurately applying rigid general laws to specific situations; that the very Raison d'ĂȘtre of jurisprudence in America is to have judges who interpret the facts of specific cases and handle them according to their individual merits; and that wild trout never, under any circumstances, belongs with molasses soaked anything.

As Mrs. Scalia wiped the flecks of foam from my crimson face I could see Nino shifting uncomfortably in his chair. The Walker Gold was open and flowing by now and he thought it might be a good idea to get "Sandy" over to help clear things up. Sure. Why not? There were plenty of glasses and security was top notch in case things got out of hand.

"Do you want to see my tattoo?"

Not the first words I expected to hear from a former Supreme Court Justice; at least not since Earl Warren died. Still, the mood was warm, the bacon was peppered, and Ms. O'Connor looked pretty good for an octogenarian.

"Why not, Sandy? I guess you took John Riggins advice and finally decided to lighten up." She beamed at the mention of his name.

"Johnny's the best thing that ever happened in my life." She glared at Nino. "He knows how to treat a real woman." Then she turned to me. "He's outside now. He won't come into Nino's house cause he thinks he's a crypto-fascist pig." At this she started shrieking hysterically and poured herself a shot of Johnny Green.

Sandy was wearing a red leather half-shirt, low rider jeans, panda fur boots, and she practically oozed judicial authority. I shyly walked over to her and said, "Nino and I have a disagreement about...," and before I could get it out she said, "Dude, why are you living in the past?"

Nino shouted: "Dammit Sandy! Did you or did you not say that the issue before the court was not whether a State can execute the innocent. It was, as the Court noted, whether a fairly convicted and therefore legally guilty person was constitutionally entitled to yet another judicial proceeding in which to adjudicate his guilt anew, 10 years after conviction, notwithstanding his failure to demonstrate that constitutional error infected his trial? Well?! Did you or what?!"

Her face brightened noticeably and she looked at me and said, "See, little man? That's why I love him. He's Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith, mother fucker! Even when he's drunk he can quote me at length" and she made some kind of grotesque, stretching hand gesture as she over pronounced the word leeeennnnggttthhhh .

I was angry and humiliated and had so much more I wanted to say, but Lemuel had started playing the piano and Nino and Sandy were laughing and dancing and the room started spinning and the only thing my mind could hold still was Mrs. Antonin Scalia, back against the wall, not frowning, looking through a distant open window at the sun washing over an empty meadow, and I could see clearly; she knew.