Daniel Lewis
May 16, 2017

Unraveling Scalia: His Off- and On-the-Court Friendship with Ginsburg

As the Supreme Court resumes its work this week, we continue to contemplate Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy. While he will be remembered for his wit and judicial philosophy, we were curious whether statistics might uncover insights that escaped the common understanding.

To start, we turned to Ravel’s Judge Analytics platform to explore which other Supreme Court justices Scalia found most influential, by looking at who he cited to in his majority opinions. Did he look to fellow originalist, Justice Clarence Thomas, and those on the Court’s conservative wing to support his arguments?

Scalia’s Surprising Affection for Ginsburg’s Opinions

Who a judge cites to can say a lot about how they make decisions -- whether it is to another judge they find persuasive, someone who mentored them, or someone they share philosophy with. Over time, patterns in those citations reveal themselves.


In Scalia’s majority opinions, we discovered that the person whose work he cites most often is his own. This pattern is not unusual amongst judges, but it is also not pervasive. When turning to others, Scalia frequently cited the work of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate conservative.

What struck us, though, is how frequently Scalia cites to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an increasing trend in his later years on the bench. Their friendship off the court has been well documented, but this on-the-court affinity is surprising given how far apart on the liberal-conservative spectrum they are. Indeed, Scalia’s citations to Ginsburg increased during his tenure, surpassing Scalia’s references to Clarence Thomas.

Despite their differing views, Scalia and Ginsburg maintained a deep friendship, sharing a love of opera and vacationing together with their spouses. We haven’t distinguished the nature of Scalia’s citations to Ginsburg, but his frequent references to her written decisions must reflect a certain level of respect for her, and indicate that whether agreeing or disagreeing, he found it important to consider her opinions.

We’re diving into our Judge Analytics platform for a deeper statistical understanding of Scalia’s career and will be sharing our findings in the next few days. Check back in for more data-driven insights on Scalia’s rulings.

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