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Polar Opposites: The Unlikely Friendship of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia

The two may have held opposing political views, but they shared a life-long friendship.

WASHINGTON — The political battle is just beginning over the future of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court. That battle highlights the growing hostility between the two parties and their leaders.

Perhaps the country and politicians could learn something from Ginsburg and her friendship with a political opponent.

When you look at the Justice on the Supreme Court, we tend to focus on their differences. One group of judges leans left or the other group of judges leans right. People get so caught up in politics, they tend to think the distaste in the streets reflects on the federal bench.

But according to the judges that is not the case. Take the friendship of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia as an example.

You would be hard pressed to find two more opposite views on the court.  Ginsburg was a stalwart of liberal interpretations of the constitution. Whereas, Scalia was viewed as a strict  conservative constitutionalist.

“Even when I am on the other side, if I see something in (Scalia’s) opinion that I think is not well stated, I will call him or send him a note, just to him, not circulate it to everyone else,” Ginsburg said in a 60 Minutes Interview back in 2008.

“He does that same thing with my opinions. “

In the interview, Ginsburg explained the two became friends on the DC Court of Appeals in the 1980s.

“His birthday is in March, and my birthday is in March. My husband baked a cake for his birthday. And Scalia came to my chambers with a bouquet of beautiful yellow roses on my birthday,” she said in the interview.

Both families said the two loved opera, even making cameo appearances together in productions. They shared a mutual love of wine.  Ginsburg would say they didn’t agree at times, but each respected the other's intellect and opinion.

What began as a work relationship on the court of appeals-turned into a lifelong friendship-up until Scalia’s death in 2016. Ginsburg spoke at his memorial service.

“Justice Scalia was asked, 'If you were stranded on a desert island with your new court colleague, who would you prefer, Larry Tribe, or Mario Cuomo?' Justice Scalia answered quickly and distinctly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg,’” she said at the service.  “And within days, the president chose me.”

Perhaps what truly brought them together most wasn’t their common interests, but what Ginsburg called a common respect and reverence for the court and the country’s constitution.

A lesson that seems distant these days in the nation’s capital.

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