Updated 11:49 a.m.
By Tony Mauro
A day after the end of the oral argument season at the Supreme Court, justices, advocates, academics and others came together Thursday afternoon to celebrate, survey the wreckage and talk about what's next.
The reception, sponsored as it is every year by the Georgetown University Law Center's Supreme Court Institute, has become the annual company picnic of the Court community. Where else could a group of journalists who cover the Court huddle to handicap Wednesday's arguments in the Arizona immigration case, while Solicitor General Donand Verrilli Jr. is chatting a few feet away, his adversary in the case Paul Clement is schmoozing a few feet beyond that, and oh yes, Justice Elena Kagan, who was recused, is holding court somewhere in between?
Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito Jr. were also on hand for the wine-and-finger-food event. Part of the Georgetown institute's agenda was to thank the 200-plus lawyers who served as judges for the moot courts the institute puts on for advocates who are about to argue at the high court. Director Irv Gornstein said the institute had done moot courts for lawyers in 94 per cent of the cases argued between October and April — 65 out of 69 total.
In remarks to the crowd, Scalia said that because of the institute and its moot courts, "the quality of arguments before the Court has improved enormously" since he joined it in 1986 — a high compliment, given Scalia's role as chief tormentor of the oral advocates who appear before him.
But Scalia's main job Thursday was to pay tribute to Justice Ginsburg, whom the institute was honoring for her contributions to the Court and to the law. Scalia said Ginsburg is "my best friend on the Court," a friendship that began when they both served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Ginsburg was the only judge, he said, who made concrete suggestions to him about how to improve his opinions. When he tried to do the same for other colleagues, Scalia said, "they did not appreciate it."
Scalia said, "She can be tough. You don't want to have a civil procedure matter" before Ginsburg "in which you are wrong." With a smile, he then shrugged and said to the law school audience, "But who cares about civil procedure?" Georgetown Law dean William Treanor also complimented Ginsburg for her work and close connection to Georgetown, where her late husband Martin taught tax law for many years.
James Feldman, a veteran Supreme Court advocate and current president of the Washington National Opera, offered Ginsburg, an avid opera fan, some suitable gifts for the occasion. Singers from the opera company serenaded Ginsburg, and Feldman presented her with a signed poster from the performance of the Richard Strauss opera Ariadne Auf Naxos in which both Ginsburg and Scalia made brief appearances as supernumeraries.
Ginsburg thanked the institute for honoring her and for its work in putting on moot courts for Supreme Court advocates. "I wish I could volunteer" as a judge for the moot courts, she said with a laugh, knowing that won't be possible as long as she remains on the Court.