Antonin Scalia: Supreme Court Class Clown

The justice's favorite legal movie is My Cousin Vinny.

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By Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers

He loves opera, good books, and a well-argued court case. But when it comes to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's taste in humor, he's just like the rest of us. "My favorite legal movie is My Cousin Vinny," the conservative justice admits. "I could watch that over and over and over again." Especially the scenes that include dishy Marisa Tomei. "God, she's a killer," Scalia says. While his court is a snooze compared with the movie's legal shenanigans, Scalia likes to play the class clown. In fact, a 2005 study analyzing courtroom transcripts found that he was 19 times as funny as his BFF, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As the court prepares for a new session, Scalia has been making the rounds to promote his recent book, Making Your Case, and offering advice about humor and courtroom presentation that lawyers he'll face this fall ought to take note of. Among his pet peeves: "Strengthen your command of written English," he urges. "Lawyers are lousy writers, and the main reason why they are lousy writers is that most of them read nothing but judicial opinion and law review articles, which, stylistically, is garbage," he says. "If you want to be a good writer, you have to read good stuff, and that's not legal opinions. No, it's Dickens, it is intelligent current magazines like the Economist, and things like that." Also, keep theatrics to a minimum. One no-no: lawyers who take off their eyeglasses and wave them dramatically in the air at the justices to make a point. "That's Perry Mason stuff and never going to impress a real judge," Scalia says.

And remember, if you're not Joe Pesci, don't try to kid the kidder. "The problem is everybody thinks he has a good sense of humor, and not many of us do," says the judge affectionately known as "Nino." And know if the judge has a funny bone before cracking a joke. "It's risky, but if it is indeed done well in front of a judge with a sense of humor, such as I, it's effective."

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR

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