In a 1981 Letter, Scalia Lists His GOP Bonafides

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Oct. 7 2013 1:00 PM

In a 1981 Letter, Scalia Lists His GOP Bonafides   

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Federal judges are supposed to be nonpartisan when they serve on the bench—yet to get appointed, they must gain the favor of a president and his administration. That means aspiring judges often navigate a complicated path. 

In this 1981 letter, current Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia writes to Deputy Attorney General Edward Schmults to highlight his political loyalties and his experience in government and legal practice. The day before writing the letter, Scalia met with Attorney General William French Smith to discuss possible positions in the Reagan administration.  

Advertisement

According to Scalia biographer Joan Biskupic, the future Supreme Court justice was “perpetually restless.” He had run the prestigious Office of Legal Counsel in the Ford administration before spending several years as an academic. (Scalia discussed his service in what he called the “wounded, enfeebled” Ford administration in his recent interview with New York magazine.) Now Scalia itched to get back into government, ideally as Reagan’s solicitor general. 

In his letter to Schmults, Scalia anxiously shares his “terrible feeling” that Attorney General Smith “may regard me as an academic who now and then dabbles in government.”  Scalia hastened to declare himself a loyal Republican whose “enthusiasm” for President Ronald Reagan and his policy agenda “is beyond question.”  

Scalia failed to get the solicitor general appointment—a bitter disappointment that, according to Biskupic, he “never forgot.”  President Reagan made up for it, however, by appointing Scalia to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia the following year and to the Supreme Court in 1986.

ScaliaLetterFinal

General Records of the Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, Subject Files of the Attorney General William French Smith, 1981-1984. National Archives.

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Scotland Votes to Remain in U.K.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Can Democrats Keep Counting on Republicans to Offend Women as a Campaign Strategy?

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.