Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

Tampa Bay residents recall encounters with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

TAMPA — Since childhood, as he watched his mother work as a bookkeeper in a New York courthouse, John Badalamenti wanted to be a judge.

So when President Ronald Reagan nominated another Sicilian from New York, Antonin Scalia, to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1986, Badalamenti, then in high school, had confirmation he could reach his dream. Later, as a Tampa lawyer, Badalamenti argued in front of Scalia in a local case that rose to the Supreme Court, an experience he called "humbling."

"Knowing that someone made it out of a community a few miles away is inspirational," said Badalamenti, now a judge on the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Scalia died Saturday while at a resort in Texas. He was 79.

During his time as associate justice, Scalia visited the Tampa Bay region at least twice. A noted Roman Catholic, Scalia delivered the oath of the attorney at a Red Mass for local lawyers, judges and police officers in 1998. The service was held at St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in St. Petersburg.

He also attended a 2007 reception at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. After meeting Scalia, former Circuit Judge Steve Rushing told the then-St. Petersburg Times the encounter was "clearly one of the highlights of my legal career."

Scalia's role as one of the nation's foremost legal scholars put him before audiences across the country, generating memorable moments for several locals.

Polk County teacher Elizabeth Rasmussen keeps in her classroom a photo with Scalia in Washington, D.C. She was there during a fellowship for social study teachers getting their master's degrees. Moments before the photo was taken, she found herself next to the justice, whom she thanked for spending more than 90 minutes with them.

"He said, 'I love teachers. My mom and my sister were teachers,' " Rasmussen, 29, recalled. "He told us that every teacher should have a copy of the Constitution and Federalist Papers on our desk and it should guide our instruction."

St. Petersburg resident Zoe Goplerud dined with Scalia as a child when he came to speak at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where her father was dean of the law school. She remembered he made a point to talk to her and her sister at the kids' table.

"I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet him and have him in my house and interact with him on a personal level," Goplerud, 21, said.

In the past year, Scalia ruled on two cases of local significance.

In April 2015, the Supreme Court upheld Florida's campaign restrictions for judicial candidates in a 5-4 decision, a case sparked by a Hillsborough County judicial candidate who was fined for signing a fundraising letter. In a dissent full of Scalia's signature wit and biting criticism, the longtime justice wrote: "The First Amendment is not abridged for the benefit of the Brotherhood of the Robe."

In another 5-4 decision in February 2015, justices in Yates vs. United States sided with a Manatee County fisherman who was punished for destroying evidence — getting rid of some fish authorities said were underweight. Scalia was critical of the government but dissented.

Badalamenti represented the fisherman. In preparing to argue before Scalia, Badalamenti said he tried to "be careful to stay close to the language of the statute." Scalia was a stickler for that perspective of the law.

"It's open to debate whether his view is the correct view," Badalamenti said, "but he left a strong legacy."

Times senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected]

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