U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia on singing, playing music, and being the 'Funniest Justice'

by Kimberly Atkins

The Daily Record Newswire

Long before Justice Antonin Scalia was known as a voice of strict constructionism on the Supreme Court, he was known for his tenor singing voice.

In an interview with New York Classical radio station WQXR host Gilbert Kaplan, Scalia reveals a number of little-known musical facts about himself: he sang in the glee club in high school, he's a trained pianist and also played the French horn in a marching band, and he has lent his tenor voice to choral groups in several cities, including in Washington.

''[W]e sang at the National Gallery, the National Cathedral, various other places,'' Scalia said of the chorus, which he joined during his days as a Court of Appeals judge. ''I miss it very much.''

Kaplan, noting as DC Dicta has that Scalia is the funniest justice according to the number of laughs he gets from the audience during oral arguments, asked Scalia about the role humor plays in his jurisprudence.

''Oh, I don't - you know - I guess one purpose is to just lighten things up,'' Scalia said.

''Life is dull enough. There's no reason why legal argument can not be civilized with a little bit of wit and humor now and then. It's hard for that to come from the counsel who are arguing the case.

"It's pretty risky to try to be humorous when you're counsel but the judges can now and then make wry observations upon the passing scene. That's one purpose. But another purpose is there is nothing that can so deflate an overblown argument as a humorous interjection that shows how absurd it is.''

He also talked about his experience on stage - along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - for the entire performance of the Washington National Opera's Ariadne auf Naxos back in October.

Scalia and Ginsburg had non-speaking parts as diner party guests, and at one point a singer perched herself on Scalia's lap.

''[A]t one point a perky little participant in the opera ... she comes and sits upon my lap,'' Scalia recounted.

''It's not in the script but it was written in for that night. And I didn't consider it my, you know, most notable theatrical performance. It didn't take much talent. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.''

Published: Mon, Apr 12, 2010