Citing Authority, Scalia Argues Cogently That His “Obscene Gesture” Was Misinterpreted As Such

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia fired off a letter to the Boston Herald this week, complaining about a report in that paper that Scalia had made an "obscene gesture" toward reporters on Sunday.  A Herald reporter caught Scalia after he had attended Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and asked him whether his impartiality in matters of church and state could reasonably be questioned (apparently because he was caught going to church).  Scalia responded via gesture, which was initially reported to be finger-based but by Monday had been identified as "flicking his hand under his chin."  Scalia apparently then followed up with the phrase, "That’s Sicilian."

Scalia sharply contested the reporter’s interpretation of this as "obscene," saying the reporter had jumped to that conclusion.  "From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos," Scalia wrote, "your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene — especially when made by an ‘Italian jurist’ [as the report had described him].  I am, by the way, an American jurist."

Instead, he continued, the gesture is properly construed as merely "dismissive."  As you would expect, he cited authority, quoting from the book "The Italians" by one Luigi Barzini, a name that certainly sounds authoritative, and dangerous.  He quoted Barzini as stating: "The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means ‘I couldn’t care less.  It’s no business of mine.  Count me out.’"

Scalia most recently used the gesture on March 29th during oral argument in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in response to an argument that foreigners had rights.  (No, he didn’t.)

Hamdan also saw Justice Thomas use his most common gesture, in which the extended fingers of both hands, as well as the chin and mouth parts, remain entirely motionless.

Link: AP via