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.
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.