'Not an ogre:' A former clerk told us what it was really like to work with Justice Scalia

Remembering Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

A few weeks ago, I reached out to former clerks of the now-deceased Justice Antonin Scalia for a feature story on what it was like to work with one of history's most fascinating Supreme Court justices.

One of those former clerks, Brian T. Fitzpatrick (now a law professor at Vanderbilt) spoke to me at length about Scalia's personality and why he thinks the public was so fascinated by him.

"His persona is kind of gruff because he has some sharp elbows in his opinion-writing," Fitzpatrick told me last month.

But, he added, "If you ever go to a cocktail party there is always a big group of people around him. He is not an ogre. He is a charming, sophisticated person."

See more of Scalia's life in the gallery below:

Antonin Scalia
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'Not an ogre:' A former clerk told us what it was really like to work with Justice Scalia
WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 21: United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia (R) arrives at the American Enterprise Institue February 21, 2006 in Washington, DC. Justice Scalia delivered the keynote address about foreign law and the debate about how it is used in American Law during the seminar called 'Outsourcing Of American Law.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 10: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia walks October 10, 2005 in the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City. This is the 61st Columbus Parade which celebrates both the explorer and Italian cultural influence on America. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 29: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia addresses the Philadelphia Bar Association during a luncheon April 29, 2004 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scalia presented the first Antonin Scalia Award to Philadelphia lawyer and former American Bar President Jerome J. Shestack. Scalia is the third U.S. Supreme Court Justice to Address the Philadelphia Bar Association members in less than a year. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (L) attends inaugural ceremonies 20 January 2w005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. US President George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term in a solemn ceremony held under unprecedented security on the steps of the US Capitol. (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A.CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
ANN ARBOR, MI - JANUARY 25: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at the fifth annual Ava Maria School of Law lecture January 25, 2005 on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Scalia talked about religion and U.S. Constitution. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
384802 07: (FILE PHOTO) This undated file photo shows Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC. (Photo by Liaison)
382727 01: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia talks with opera star Placido Domingo at a gala opening night dinner following a Washington Opera performance Oct 21, 2000 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Karin Cooper/Liaison)
382727 17: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia looks at a painting during an opening at the National Gallery of Art September 27, 2000 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Karin Cooper/Liaison)
371151 07: Louis Freeh, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, left, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia applaud during the Mass of Installation for Archbishop Edward Egan June 19, 2000 at St. Patrick''s Cathedral in New York. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Newsmakers)
382727 05: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia attends a National Gallery of Art opening ceremony September 27, 2000 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Karin Cooper/Liaison)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 29: (L-R) Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Jason Binn, and Charles Merinoff inside the Correspondent's After Party hosted by Capitol File Magazine on April 29, 2006 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images)

Scalia, who died Saturday at 79, seemed to make headlines more than any other justice — in part, because he had a colorful way of describing what could be dry topics like Constitutional originalism. He famously described the Constitution as not a living document but rather "dead, dead, dead."

When I spoke to Fitzpatrick, he told me that Scalia set himself apart from the other justices by trying to reach a broad audience that included anybody from top lawyers to young people.

"That is what leads him to be such a sharp and edgy writer and such a performer," Fitzpatrick told me, after noting that many of the other justices are "pretty darned boring."

Indeed, Alan Dershowitz told Business Insider on Saturday that Scalia "changed the style of Supreme Court decision-writing -- making it much more personal."

Scalia reached his decisions by gathering his clerks around for a spirited debate, with Fitzpatrick often playing the devil's advocate and arguing the views his justice opposed.

"The debates were about, 'How can Scalia be the best Scalia? ... The justice is pretty confident in his views, and he's a pretty smart guy," Fitzpatrick said. "It was rare that we would bring up something that he hadn't thought of himself."

More reaction on Scalia's death:

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'Not an ogre:' A former clerk told us what it was really like to work with Justice Scalia
The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY!
My statement on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: https://t.co/vxgIicZxYy
Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.
#Scalia death thrusts the Supreme Court 2016 presidential contest - if the Senate won't confirm an Obama pick, kicks to POTUS 45 #GOPDebate
Justice Scalia was a defender of the constitution, an important conservative voice in the court. He will be missed. https://t.co/cOB3juvx7A
Devastating lose of Justice Scalia. A legal giant who steered the Supreme Court onto the Constitution. God Bless him.
God bless Anthony Scalia, finest Sup Ct Justice RIP
Sorry to hear of the sudden passing of Judge #Scalia, a strong and conservative voice on the SCOTUS.
Antonin Scalia was a leader, a protector of our constitutional rights. His influence will be missed. Our prayers are with his family.
My prayers are with the family of #JusticeScalia.
A great light has gone out. Justice Scalia was a great protector of freedom & liberty. He will be missed.
#RIP Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the greatest constitutional scholars to ever serve #US on the bench. Thoughts are with his family.
I'm very sorry to learn of the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia - a defender of the Constitution and a dedicated public servant.
I offer my condolences to the family of Justice Scalia. The nation is grateful for his nearly 30 years of service on the Supreme Court.
Saddened by the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia. He proudly served our country & defended our Constitution. My prayers are with his family.
Very sad to hear of Justice Antonin Scalia's death today. He will be missed as a champion of the Constitution and rule of law. #SCOTUS
My thoughts are with Justice Scalia's family. Though I didn't share his philosophy, I admired his patriotism.
Jeanette & I mourn the loss of Justice Scalia, and our thoughts & prayers are with his wife Maureen & his family. https://t.co/e03KRZRM6q
My thoughts and prayers are with Justice Scalia's family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing. https://t.co/Y51xUMMEId

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