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Wisconsin deputy solicitor general: ‘Law was not politics to Justice Scalia’

By   /   February 15, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

MADISON, Wis. – Antonin Scalia is gone, but the brilliant conservative Supreme Court justice’s legacy lives on – in the elegant and far-reaching legal opinions he wrote and in the lives of the people he touched.

Among those countless people the justice helped inform and professionally shape is the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s incoming chief deputy solicitor general.

Ryan Walsh served as a law clerk for Scalia for more than a year, in 2013 and 2014, before joining the Washington, D.C., law firm of Jones Day in October 2014 as an associate. Walsh assumes the deputy solicitor general post in mid-April.

The former law clerk shared his remembrances of the conservative justice in the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog post Sunday.

“Scalia wanted clerks who would have the intellectual courage to challenge his views,” Walsh recalled

The blog’s author, Sara Randazzo, notes Jones Day has hired more than its share of Supreme Court clerks.

As the blog notes, Scalia was known to hire liberal clerks to give him a counter view.

Photo from Ryan Walsh's Facebook page

REMEMBERING JUSTICE SCALIA: Ryan Walsh (right), with his former boss, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Walsh, Wisconsin’s incoming deputy solicitor general, served as Scalia’s law clerk 2013 and 2014.

Walsh said he had contacted Scalia last week, when he received a congratulatory reply to an email noting he had landed the Wisconsin post.

“He’s not one who’s known to reply,” Walsh told the Wall Street Journal. “I’ll remember that forever.”

Scalia was pronounced dead Saturday at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Texas, less than hour from the Mexican border.  His death leaves a profound vacancy, leaving a 4-4 split on a court that had held a narrow — and not always reliable — 5-4 conservative edge.

Walsh had this to say about the influential justice in a Facebook post:

Before my clerkship with the Justice, outgoing clerk Eric Tung told me to get excited—“He’s the real deal,” he said. I later learned what Eric meant. After oral argument, my co-clerks and I would meet with the Justice to discuss the cases and prepare him for conference. Those meetings revealed the man.  Like all of us, the Justice had biases. Yet, unlike most of us, the Justice was often transparent about those biases, and those biases could always be overcome by reason. If the Justice were inclined to disagree with us about a case, he not only would welcome a fight—he would expect it. And when the clerks had the better argument (by the lights of his methodology), it was quite typical of the Justice to change his view, no matter the outcome. Law was not politics to Justice Scalia. Nor was it mere will. Law, to Justice Scalia, was law.

Forget the cynics. Agree or disagree with his jurisprudence, Justice Scalia was the real deal.

Rest in peace, Boss.

Scalia’s influence is evident in Walsh’s law work. The attorney’s biography notes that he focuses his practice on appellate litigation in general and litigation in the area of constitutional and administrative law in particular.

Walsh’s resume includes a stint as law clerk for Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.  In 2012, he was named a John Marshall Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.

The native Wisconsinite grew up in Danbury and attended school in the Webster School District. He graduated with high honors from the University of Chicago Law School in 2012. While attending the University of Chicago, Walsh was awarded the Lynde & Harry Bradley Student Fellowship and named as a Kirkland & Ellis Scholar.

Scalia’s passing sets off a looming nomination battle between liberal President Barack Obama and a Republican-controlled Congress in a presidential election year.

“Ryan boasts an elite resume including serving as a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. I am honored to have two former clerks to United States Supreme Court Justices on my team here at the Wisconsin DOJ, and particularly pleased that Ryan is returning to Wisconsin to defend the rule of law,” Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a recent statement.


M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]