Meanwhile, the owner of the ranch where Scalia passed away said his death was "peaceful"

By Tim Nudd
Updated February 15, 2016 02:00 PM
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Credit: Stephen R. Brown/AP

He was the brash, larger-than-life, brilliantly sharp-witted conservative bedrock of the Supreme Court. She is the court’s soft-spoken, diminutive, quietly revolutionary liberal voice. More often than not, they found themselves in ideological battle.

Yet in a relationship that lasted decades, through parallel career paths that ended up making them the closest of friends, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg proved opposites really do attract.

Indeed, they couldn’t have been more fond of each other, as Ginsburg, 82, made clear in a moving tribute to Scalia that she has written in the wake of his death Saturday at age 79.

She began the tribute with a reference to Scalia/Ginsburg, a recent comic opera about their famous friendship.

“Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve,” she wrote. “From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies.”

The pair frequently dined and vacationed together, and they would ring in every New Year’s together with their families. And yes, they challenged each other professionally as well – including, since 1993, as justices together on the nation’s highest court.

“We disagreed now and then,” Ginsburg wrote, “but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots – the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’ – and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.”

She added: “He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his ‘energetic fervor,’ ‘astringent intellect,’ ‘peppery prose,’ ‘acumen,’ and ‘affability,’ all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.”

Scalia was just as fond of Ginsburg.

“Call us the odd couple,” he said last year at a George Washington University event with her. “She likes opera, and she’s a very nice person. What’s not to like? Except her views on the law.”

In closing her tribute, Ginsburg again referenced opera.

“Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs,” she wrote. “He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.”

“He Had Obviously Passed Away with No Difficulty At All”

Meanwhile, the owner of the Texas ranch where Scalia was found dead Saturday said his passing was “peaceful.” He died of natural causes and no autopsy was needed, a judge told the Associated Press.

“The judge, when I found him Saturday morning, was in complete repose,” John Poindexter, owner of Cibolo Creek Ranch in Marfa, Texas, told NBC News on Sunday. “He was very peaceful in his – in the bed. He had obviously passed away with no difficulty at all in the middle of the night.”

Poindexter said Scalia arrived at the ranch Friday with a “good friend” to join about 35 other people for a weekend retreat. They enjoyed a “very jolly dinner,” Poindexter said, before Scalia excused himself at about 9 p.m.

When Scalia did not come down for breakfast the next morning, Poindexter said he knocked on his door but got no response. At about 11 a.m., Poindexter entered Scalia’s room and found him with “no pulse and a very cold sensation.”

“It was very difficult for everyone,” Poindexter said.

But Friday’s dinner, Poindexter added, was in some ways a most fitting farewell for the revered justice.

“He found himself in a very congenial group. He was surrounded by admirers of him and his work,” Poindexter said. “Among the most commonly said things [on Saturday] was, if this had to happen – and we’re really sad that it did – but if it had to happen, it happened in the very best of circumstances,” he added. “He seemed to enjoy himself greatly.”