Scalia Reflects

Justice Scalia continued his media tour this weekend with an appearance on Q&A , C-SPAN’s weekly interview series. It is one of the more insightful and interesting Scalia interviews that I’ve seen, which isn’t all that surprising given that Brian Lamb was his interrogator .

My favorite part: Lamb replayed parts of a 1986 interview with Scalia, back when he still was a judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Scalia praised the quality of argument regularly offered by attorneys in cases involving typical D.C. Circuit fare—energy cases, FCC cases, labor cases. Reacting to that clip, Scalia discussed the difference between the D.C. Circuit’s more specialized bar and the Supreme Court’s general practice and concluded, “Overall, I think the quality was probably better on the D.C. Circuit.”

For what it’s worth, I appreciate Justice Scalia’s sentiment. I once enjoyed the honor and privilege of clerking for the current chief judge, and I was struck by the quality of briefing and argument: The D.C. Circuit bar serves up a steady diet of administrative law cases, and while not all of the briefs I read were impressive (or even coherent), many of them were startlingly good. It takes true talent to transform indecipherable industry jargon and technical detail into an argument suitable for an audience of generalist judges (and clerks). Just about anyone can make a brief about the First Amendment interesting; it takes a true virtuoso to capture a clerk’s attention for 50 pages of argument arising from an FCC decision. Those lawyers raise a high bar for the rest of us.