A recent study by Pew Research found that U.S. political polarization is at its highest point in decades. Over the past 63 years, the gap in presidential approval ratings by party has widened by a large margin. For instance, in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower had a gap of 39 percentage points between approval by his party and that of the opposition. In 2010, Barack Obama had a 67-percentage-point approval rating gap between Democrats (81 percent) and Republicans (14 percent). According to Pew Research, this widening gap encourages liberals and conservatives to “deny the other’s facts, disapprove of each other’s lifestyles, avoid each other’s neighborhoods, impugn each other’s motives, [and] doubt each other’s patriotism.”
Given the toll that political polarization has taken on American society, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent tribute to her “best buddy,” Justice Antonin Scalia, is a lesson in civility sadly missing from the current political climate. Until his death on Saturday, Scalia was one of the Court’s staunchest conservatives, and Ginsburg, one of the Court’s most liberal. According to CNN, at a joint press conference featuring the SCOTUS “odd couple,” Scalia once joked, “What’s not to like? Except her views on the law, of course.” Scalia and Ginsburg shared a passion for opera, vacationed together, and often celebrated New Year’s Eve together, with their spouses.
Here’s Ginsburg’s touching tribute to Scalia.
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. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, 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. 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.
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. 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.