Scalia served law school

The late Justice participated in Beasley School of Law’s Rule of Law Program.

Beasley School of Law students from the Rule of Law Program met Justice Scalia and toured the Court during their trip to Washington, D.C. | COURTESY LOUIS THOMPSON

From her time spent clerking at the Supreme Court, Pamela Bookman distinctly remembers the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s reaction to the birth of her co-clerk’s first child.

“We were sort of talking about it in the hall, smiling and, you know, laughing and talking about it happily,” said Bookman, a visiting assistant professor of civil procedure and contracts at the Beasley School of Law. “And he passed by and sort of wondered what all the jollity was about, and when we told him, he was so happy.”

“He just seemed to appreciate the real-life part of life,” Bookman added. “He wasn’t all business.”

Scalia served on the Supreme Court for 29 years before his death this past February, and for the last years 16 years of his life, Scalia also served as a member of the advisory board for Temple’s Rule of Law Program in China.

The 15-month Rule of Law Program operates in collaboration with Tsinghua University in Beijing, and it trains Chinese lawyers and judges in American and international law.

As part of his position, Scalia met with students from the master of laws section of the program during their summer semester in the United States.

“The students always thought it was one of the high points of the whole program,” said Robert Reinstein, former dean of Beasley from 1989 to 2008 and now the Clifford Scott Green chair professor of law.

Reinstein said Scalia believed Temple’s joint program in China was important.

“He thought that anything that the United States could do to help develop the rule of law in China would be positive, not only for China, but for the whole world,” Reinstein said.

Reinstein, who helped start the Rule of Law Program in 1997 while he was dean, met with Scalia on several occasions and said the justice was a “very witty, very funny, relaxed guy.”

“Some of the justices on the Supreme Court can be pretty boring,” Reinstein said. “You could never say that about Justice Scalia.”

Scalia met with students every year for an hour during the group’s annual trip to Washington, D.C. He always gave a short talk on topics ranging from the separation of powers to his own constitutional philosophy, known as originalism.

Originalism entails applying the Constitution as it was understood by its original framers. Some of Scalia’s more controversial applications of originalism include the opposition of abortion and gay marriage.

“He would get into arguments with the students, where he would have Chinese students challenging him on that, that the American Constitution should be interpreted much more broadly,” Reinstein said.

Louis Thompson, assistant dean for graduate and international programs at Beasley,  remembers when a student asked Scalia about his dissent in the 1996 U.S. v. Virginia case, in which the Court deemed the exclusion of women from the Virginia Military Institute unconstitutional.

Scalia was the only justice to dissent, arguing that the Constitution did not directly prohibit VMI’s tradition of only admitting male students. Thus, only the school itself, he believed, could alter the tradition.

“One of the students … she raises her hand and says, ‘Justice Scalia, I read your dissent in the VMI case, and I get the distinct impression that you don’t like women,’” Thompson said.

“The Justice, you know, his eyes arched up and immediately he [chuckled and said], ‘Not like women? How could I not like women? I have [four] daughters, and a wife!’” Thompson said. “He went on to talk about how he simply tried to apply the law, and there was absolutely no animus toward women at all.”

This summer will be the first in more than a decade in which students from the program will not be able to meet with the former justice.

And his absence on the Supreme Court is already being felt. President Barack Obama has yet to name a nominee to fill his seat, and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have publicly refused to consider any nominee made by the president.

“I think everybody understands the president has the right, if not the duty, to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia,” Reinstein said. “The Senate also has the right not to confirm a successor.”

Jenny Roberts can be reached at

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