CHICAGO — It was an odd choice to bring in Antonin Scalia, one of U.S. Supreme Court's most conservative justices, to help dedicate a courtroom to a decidedly liberal justice who served on the court about a half-century ago.
Nobody saw that more clearly than Scalia himself.
"Let's be honest, I am not a good choice to praise Arthur Goldberg," Scalia said Friday to those gathered in the newly named courtroom during a ceremony at The John Marshall Law School in downtown Chicago. "I am not here to praise Justice Goldberg's jurisprudence."
Scalia, the longest-serving justice currently on the court, has not been shy in battling liberals and making provocative statements — traits that have kept him in the news and made him a target of critics during his 26 years. So those attending the ceremony wondered what he would say about a liberal justice who was appointed by President John F. Kennedy and served on the high court from 1962 until 1965.
Scalia praised the late Goldberg, specifically about opinions regarding desegregation.
"He wrote some fine opinions for the court including the one calling for immediate relief to black plaintiffs seeking desegregation of Memphis parks and recreation facilities," Scalia said.
But he also did not disappoint when it came to being provocative. Goldberg is known for a concurring opinion in a privacy case in which the justices ruled a state could not deny birth control to married couples. Though that opinion helped pave the way for Roe v. Wade, which established a woman's right to choose an abortion, Scalia said that Goldberg's own writings suggest he would have dissented had he been on the court in 1973.
Scalia saved most of his praise for Goldberg's career as a labor lawyer, saying he stands with former Justice Thurgood Marshall when it comes to his legal career before joining the court.
"He is in my judgment like Thurgood Marshall who will not, I think, be remembered for his work on the court but will never be forgotten for his brilliant and courageous leadership of the lawyers in the civil rights movement," said Scalia. "Before his (Goldberg's) appointment to the court he was almost certainly the most prominent and influential labor lawyer in the nation."
Scalia stayed away from any mention of Judge Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, both during the dedication ceremony and in a speech about the Constitution that he gave later in the day.
The two conservatives have engaged in a war of words a number of times, most notably after Scalia, who dissented in an Arizona immigration case, criticized the Obama administration's immigration policy.
Posner wrote that Scalia had no business commenting on the president's announcement changing the deportation rules of some children of illegal immigrants at a time when the issue will most certainly be part of the presidential election campaign.