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Antonin Scalia revels in the lighter side of the law

March 10, 2009|Carol J. Williams
  • Justice Antonin Scalia, left, talks with lawyer Mark E. Haddad  at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles, where he spoke Monday night.
Justice Antonin Scalia, left, talks with lawyer Mark E. Haddad at the Jonathan… (Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles…)

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had some advice Monday night for those who want to have fun in government service: Don't become a federal judge.

In a humorous account of the arcane issues and voluminous paperwork confronting the vaunted high court, Scalia said he never even wanted to become a lawyer but was swayed by the comfy lifestyle enjoyed by an uncle in the legal profession.

"I don't recall ever setting my cap to being a federal judge, never mind being a justice of the Supreme Court," he told 400 gathered at a Town Hall Los Angeles event where he also signed copies of his most recent book, a primer on how lawyers should make their cases before judges.

In a plea for more brevity in legal briefs, Scalia said he reads more attentively those by lawyers who wisely decide to stop writing when they've made their point.

"Judges do an awful lot of reading, tedious reading, not fun reading," he said. "Don't make them do any more than necessary. What doesn't help hurts."

In the book, "Making Your Case," Scalia and coauthor Bryan A. Garner offer observations on what works in getting the high court to review cases.

"Don't refer to the appellant and the appellee or the petitioner; use your client's name," he told the gathering dominated by lawyers, saying even justices lose track sometimes of the players.

The most appealing part of being a justice, he said, is writing dissents.

"Dissents are more fun. You're writing for yourself. You can really let it rip," he said of the departures from his high court colleagues he is often compelled to put in writing. On a serious note, he said dissents are often intended for posterity, to let future society know that one man or woman on the bench had the vision to see how a decision could come back to haunt them.

He mentioned the "magnificent" dissent written by Justice Robert Jackson denouncing the decision validating internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Scalia said it was a renegade view at the time, but it told legal analysts of today that "at least one man was thinking."

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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