After U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead at a private residence in West Texas on Saturday, two people who knew him in Louisiana — where the justice enjoyed duck hunting — remembered him as an intelligent man who never backed down from his beliefs but was able to have a friendly conversation and a good time with nearly anyone he met.
Scalia, 79, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan and became known for sticking to his conservative principles, even when they caused controversy.
Just a few months ago, in November, Scalia was in Louisiana, hunting at the Grand View Lodge in Cameron Parish owned by Acadian Ambulance CEO Richard Zuschlag. The two men had met weeks earlier when they were both on a hunting trip in California.
“He just struck me as a very intelligent person who cared deeply about this country,” Zuschlag said on Saturday.
Scalia had a “fantastic personality” and strong ideas about democracy, said Thanassi Yiannopoulos, a Tulane University law professor who had known Scalia since the late 1970s, while both were teaching a summer law course hosted by Tulane in Greece.
Even after Scalia was appointed a Supreme Court justice, he returned to take part in the program, ultimately teaching there five times, the last of which was in the late 1990s, Yiannopoulos said.
“He could communicate so beautifully,” Yiannopoulos said, adding that the course was “flooded” whenever students found out Scalia would be teaching.
They last saw each other a couple of years ago when Scalia was honored at an event at Tulane, Yiannopoulos said.
“He believed in his ideas, and that’s what the legacy is — integrity, or fidelity, to law. And he believed in education,” Yiannopoulos said.
Yiannopoulos, a noted expert in civil, comparative and maritime law, said that, as a justice, Scalia was often part of the dissenting vote of the Supreme Court.
“He was not the kind of justice you would try to create coalitions with in the court,” Yiannopoulos said. “He never hesitated to be in the minority and sometimes (was) even caustic, very caustic.”
But Yiannopoulos also recalled the long conversations he had in Greece with Scalia about literature and culture while sitting by the sea, sipping Greek wine.
“He was exceedingly good company,” Yiannopoulos said.
Zuschlag lamented he had come to know Scalia only recently, saying he enjoyed the justice’s company on their recent hunting trips.
“You get to do a lot of visiting in between the shooting” while in a duck blind together, Zuschlag said.
While hunting in California this fall, Scalia, a devout Catholic, was intent on attending Mass. Zuschlag said he drove Scalia, who had no federal marshals with him at the time, several miles away to the nearest Catholic church their guide could find.
“That ride out to that church and back was very meaningful to me,” Zuschlag said. Scalia talked openly “about his passion for this country, for his children — he had 36 grandchildren — and he talked about trying to set aside some money for their education.”
With such a large family, however, Scalia lamented not being able to get everyone together very often, Zuschlag said.
Scalia was an avid duck and quail hunter who regularly visited Texas and Louisiana to hunt, Zuschlag said.
“He has a great love for the Cajuns,” he said. “He loves their free spirit, their way of life, knowing how to work hard, how to play hard but above everything else, their Christian attitude.”
Fellow hunters on the recent trips made jokes about when Scalia would retire, Zuschlag said. But Scalia told them he enjoyed his work and was feeling so good he wouldn’t retire any time soon.
His death “really caught me off guard,” Zuschlag said.