Four years ago, he spoke for the court when it struck down, on free-speech grounds, a St. Paul, Minn., law that made it a crime to burn a cross in the front yard of a black family's home. The 1st Amendment protects free expression, no matter how offensive, Scalia wrote.
But he dissented bitterly when the court ruled that a county board in Kansas violated the 1st Amendment when it retaliated against a trash hauler for writing a letter to the newspaper editor that criticized the board.
"It is profoundly disturbing," Scalia boomed, "that the varying political practices across this vast country can be transformed overnight by an institution whose conviction of what the Constitution means is so fickle."
Scalia's former clerks, many of them young conservatives, are unwilling to speak for the record but defend his strong comments as reflecting his deep commitment to the job.
"He cares passionately about every case, even the minor ones that no one pays attention to. And he wants to get it right," said one.
Another said his ex-boss seems particularly angered to be losing in a Republican-dominated court.
"These days, the liberals [William J.] Brennan, [Thurgood] Marshall and [Harry] Blackmun are gone, and he's still losing. That's got to be frustrating for him," the former clerk said.
But the caustic, personal attacks on his colleagues are clearly not furthering Scalia's cause, the former aide added. "I can't defend the tone," he said. "It's not helpful at all."