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Scalia Book Explores The Man Behind The Justice

Nov 12, 2009 (All Things Considered)

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia does more than just deliver strong opinions. His combative style on the bench tends to elicit strong opinions as well. But whether you find him infuriating or impressive, his influence is without question.

A new book by USA Today legal affairs correspondent Joan Biskupic examines Scalia's life as the son of Italian immigrants, the father of nine and grandfather of 30. American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also explores how he developed his conservative views and his colorful personality.

But starting research for the book wasn't easy: Biskupic says Scalia initially refused to be interviewed because he didn't want the book to "look authorized," she says. That is, until Biskupic lured him with information she found out about his family history.

"I ran into him on a social occasion, and I had just come back from several trips to Trenton [N.J.], where he was born and spent his early years," she tells NPR's Michele Norris. "And he got intrigued by what I was finding."

Biskupic says she found information on his father's immigrant story — how the elder Scalia had come to the U.S. from Sicily when he was 15 years old, learned to speak English and earned a doctorate at Columbia University.

Biskupic ended up interviewing Scalia 12 times.

"I was always bringing him something — I was bringing him documents from the immigration service that his father and grandfather had signed, I was bringing him things from the Nixon and Ford archives, the administrations where he worked. I was bringing him information to elicit information."

And in her research, Biskupic found out more about the man on the bench — not only from Scalia and documents she dug up, but also from critics and his Supreme Court decisions themselves, like the 1989 Webster case, in which he wrote about what the 1973 opinion in Roe v. Wade did to the country .

"His core essence comes out not so much in the majority opinion — but in his dissents," she says. "That's where you see a real glimpse of him, not just on the law, but on his personal sentiment."

In one chapter, Biskupic looks at Scalia's duel passions — his Catholic faith and his conservative views on abortion. Scalia has said the Constitution does not contain a right to abortion, and Roe v. Wade was a mistake, Biskupic says.

"His views on religion very much mesh with his views on abortion rights and some church and state matters. And he will, till the end, say these are parallel passions, they are not overlapping passions. I let him have his say, but I certainly let his critics have their say, too," she says.

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