FIRST ONE @ ONE FIRST

Meat v. Beans

Posted in Justicespotting by Mike Sacks on January 19, 2010

USA Today’s Joan Biskupic writes today on the ideological and stylistic differences of Justices Scalia and Breyer:

They appear at law schools together to discuss their competing views of the Constitution. They take ideological aim at each other in rulings. And their differences are increasingly playing out in testy fashion on the bench.

No two justices seem to drive each other so nuts during oral arguments. That was clear during the first session of the new year, as Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer squabbled in a series of cases last week.

Scalia is conservative and Breyer liberal. Yet their differences on the bench are ones of both substance and style. As Breyer begins a long, hypothetical question, Scalia — a fast-speaking, get-to-the-point guy — often slaps his hands up to the sides of his head.

Breyer doesn’t exude irritation as much as frustration. A pragmatist, he is irked when Scalia interrupts his interest on how a ruling might affect real life.

As Biskupic illustrates her point with the justices’ behavior during last week’s American Needle argument, her article reminds me of my own brief Scalia-and-Breyer story that similarly exemplifies their differences.

Sometime during our stay here in DC, my girlfriend and I found ourselves wildly out of place at a party with many well-established Washington-types.  One glance around the room would make any mortal quake under the power on display.  We had two choices: stand in the corner with eyes averted or swallow our fears and engage.  We went with the latter and made towards the buffet table.

As we both stepped up to the plate–literally, dinner plates–we hit yet another obstacle.  For me, big slabs of beef with no knives in sight; for my girlfriend, on the opposite end of the table, giant beans she had never seen.  I didn’t know how to properly eat what I so wanted, she didn’t want to eat what she didn’t know.

I stood there staring at the forks and meat on the table, imagining to myself just how I could carnivorate without making a scene.  Should I aggressively saw the meat with the side of my fork?  Should I stuff the whole thing into my mouth?  Should I just tear it with my hands?

Then I looked to my left and found Justice Scalia making for the meat.  How appropriate!

Me: Justice Scalia, how do you eat the meat without a knife?

AS: Well, you take this bread [he takes bread from the breadbasket on the table], you fold the meat on top of it, and you eat it!

Me: You just gnaw on it?

AS: Yes, that’s how you eat it.

I was so excited to be getting meat-eating lessons, however curt, from Justice Scalia that I looked across the table to see if my girlfriend was taking it in.  But instead I found myself witnessing the very study in contrasts Biskupic writes of today: Justice Breyer was very intently introducing my girlfriend to the wonder of fava beans.

Now, whenever my girlfriend and I find ourselves at fancy parties with buffets featuring slabs of beef sans knives and giant fava beans, we take care to seek out our own overwhelmed peers–easily spottable by their uneasy eating–and impart to them the lessons we learned from those old adversaries, Justices Scalia and Breyer.

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