With Justice Scalia’s Death, Hunters Lose an Advocate

Among the myriad complexities surrounding the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, way down on the list is the loss of a bonafide advocate for hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

Scalia, 79, was found dead Feb. 13 while visiting the Cibolo Creek Ranch south of Marfa, Texas. That’s in the western area of the state near the Big Bend region. Scalia was staying there to attend a gathering and for some quail hunting in the area.

ScaliaThe death of a Supreme Court Justice is a huge deal, needless to say. Justices are appointed for life by the president; nominees endure a stringent vetting and confirmation process by Congress. Already, while many offer accolades to Scalia’s service to the country and his personal character, the two political parties are positioning for the next nominee and confirmation process. President Obama has said he will wait until Congress is in session to offer a nominee for consideration.

Supreme Court Justices guard their privacy pretty strongly. Only in the last 25 years or so has it seemed they have been more public in some of their non-judicial pursuits. Perhaps that’s due to the explosion of social media, or the understanding that the public wants to know about its country’s leadership. Whatever the reason, we seem to know more now about the justices before they retire or die than those of decades past.

Still, we don’t always know much about the justices’ hobbies or interests. Not so with Scalia, whose love of the outdoors has been well documented. Check out this part of a lengthy Q&A with him from New York magazine in 2013:

Speaking of Duck Dynasty, how does a nice boy from Queens become a hunter?
You know, it may be genetic. My grandfather—my namesake, his name is Antonino—he was an avid hunter. He used to disappear for a week—his family would be very upset—because he’d be off in the hills of Sicily, hunting. My last memories of him were—we had a bungalow, which he had built out on Long Island, back in the days when Long Island was really the country. I went in the woods hunting rabbits with him—there’s a photo of me holding a rabbit and his twelve-gauge shotgun. Then he got too old to go in the woods, but my uncle Frank had a large vegetable garden, and my grandfather would sit on the back porch of this bungalow, holding his twelve-gauge shotgun, and would wait for the rabbits to come to him in the vegetable garden. Boom! He would shoot them there.

There isn’t much sport in that.
Well, they’re hard to hit.

If you’re waiting for them to come to your garden?
Listen, when you’re 85 …

Fair enough.
And I inherited his gun. It was an L.C. Smith, which was a very expensive shotgun from the time. It’s corroded about six inches down from the end of the barrel, because that’s where he held it while he was waiting for the rabbits, and the salts from your hand corrode the barrel.

My grandfather is partly the answer. But I also got into it because my eldest son married a girl from Louisiana, whose father was an avid hunter. He got me into deer hunting up in Mississippi. There, I fell in with some Cajuns—including Louis Prejean, the brother of Sister Prejean. He’s as conservative as she is liberal.

I was going to ask.
I got in with them, and I got into goose hunting, duck hunting, redfish fishing—it has been a great addition to my later years. It gets me outside the Beltway with people of the sort I had never known before. They could live in the woods. Give ’em a gun, they could survive in the woods on their own. It’s nice to get in with a different crowd. None of them are lawyers. Or very few.

Scalia often visited the Southeast for hunting and fishing trips. A web search reveals he wasn’t limited to one thing. Waterfowl hunting was a favorite, often in Mississippi (along with fishing and turkey hunting) and in the famed marshes of Louisiana. Perhaps this was in part because the Supreme Court isn’t in session during duck and goose seasons?

“He loved to come to Mississippi and hunt. We’d duck hunt in the Delta, turkey hunt in south Mississippi and deer hunt in southwest Mississippi,” retired Mississippi judge Charles W. Pickering told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

scalia and kagan

Retired U.S. Judge Charles Pickering (left), Justice Scalia, Justice Kagan and Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann during a 2014 hunt.

Scalia upheld the traditions hunters often embrace of passing on the love of the outdoors to others. During a Q&A at The Aspen Institute in 2014, fellow Justice Elena Kagan revealed she had been hunting in Wyoming with Scalia and had killed a deer. The story indicates Kagan received some scornful hisses and murmurs from the crowd — liberal in majority, no doubt — yet she continued her story.

Kagan revealed that before becoming a justice she met with a western senator who asked whether she had held guns, shot guns or hunted. Finally, she said, she said she would like to go hunting with him if appointed. The invitation was not extended.

“And I went to Justice Scalia when I got onto the court, and I said, ‘This is the only promise I made during my entire confirmation proceedings, so you have to help me fulfill it.’ Kagan said. “And he thought it was hilarious. He thought it was a total crackup. And so, there you go.”

Scalia invited her and, according to her, they went whenever time and schedules permitted for upland birds and big game. Scalia often gave speeches to law schools or groups, most of which were closed to the press and not recorded. But he Scalia addressed the National Wild Turkey Federation convention in 2006, too, and urged hunters to continue to stand up for their heritage.

“The attitude of people associating guns with nothing but crime, that is what has to be changed,” he said. “I grew up at a time when people were not afraid of people with firearms. He told the group that, as a child growing up in New York City, he was part of a rifle team at the military school he attended.

“I used to travel on the subway from Queens to Manhattan with a rifle,” he said. “Could you imagine doing that today in New York City? “I hope (hunting culture) can be preserved; the hunting culture, of course, begins with a culture that does not have a hostile attitude toward firearms.”

Scalia may not have been in the public eye wildly waving the camo flag inside the Beltway or stamping the halls of Congress to support the outdoors. But I’m sure he did in his own way, on his own terms. Because it was obvious he loved the outdoors like many of us, and we’ve lost an advocate with his passing.


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