Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan reminisced Wednesday night about the late Justice Antonin Scalia during an appearance at the University of Arizona’s law school — not with tears, but with laughter.
Justice Scalia died in February of this year, leaving a "gaping hole" in the Supreme Court, Kagan said.
"When he died, there was this period where we had to figure out what to do," she said. "The loss of his voice means the institution operates differently."
The event, "A Conversation with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan," was presented by the J. Byron McCormick Society for Law and Public Affairs.
Kagan was confirmed in 2010, the first justice since William Rehnquist in 1972 to have no experience as a judge.
The confirmation process led to her friendship with Scalia, she said, because of an odd promise to an Idaho senator.
Before her confirmation, Kagan met with dozens members of Congress, many of whom questioned her about her stance on the Second Amendment. Kagan, who grew up in New York City, said she had never shot or held a gun.
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, told her that hunting was important to his constituents and questioned whether she could see that importance. He spoke in length about his ranch where he often hunted, Kagan remembered. She said she understood where he was coming from and offered to join him on a hunting trip if he wanted to invite her. After her proposition, a "look of abject horror" passed over the senator's face, she said.
So instead, she made a promise.
"If I’m lucky enough to be appointed, I’ll ask Justice Scalia to take me hunting," she told Risch.
And she did. After she was sworn in, Kagan told Scalia about how she had invited herself to one of his hunting trips .
"He thought it was so funny, he was on the floor laughing," she remembered.
Scalia took Kagan to his gun club and began teaching her gun safety and how to shoot. After he declared her ready, the two began taking hunting trips together, which is when they began to bond. Birds in Virginia, deer in Wyoming, duck in Mississippi — over the years, the justices traveled, hunted and got to know each other better.
"He was as generous and warm and funny as a person could be. I just so appreciate all the time I got to spend with him," she said. "I miss him a lot."
She didn't directly address the Senate's failure to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, to replace her hunting pal.
She was asked a very long question about the partisanship of the Supreme Court.
Kagan said that the "Senate has an important role in appointing justices" but the court isn't a political institution, it's "to provide a check on the institution, to police a body of rules."
After a justice is sworn in, she said, there aren't any political pressures.