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Professor Remembers Two Decade Friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia

February 18, 2016

Justice Antonin Scalia was so passionate about the U.S. Constitution, and believed so strongly in all that it stood for and how it should be interpreted, that he walked around with a copy of the nation’s most important document in his shirt pocket.

The Supreme Court’s most famous conservative, Scalia was a man of fierce intelligence, someone who could converse knowledgeably on many topics and who also loved the opera and literature.

He was also witty, charming, and extremely patriotic.

These are just a few of the memories shared by Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Susan Tiefenbrun, who was friends with Scalia for more than two decades and grew to know him in a way few others in the San Diego community did.

“Justice Scalia was a very unique, brilliant intellect,” Tiefenbrun recalled this week during an interview with KUSI. “He was a real gentleman. Funny, but ferociously intellectual and intelligent.”

Nominated for the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan in, Scalia died Saturday of natural causes. He was 79.

Tiefenbrun and Scalia met 22 years ago and taught together in Thomas Jefferson Law’s summer study abroad program in France. This summer would have marked Scalia’s fifth year teaching in the program.

Over the years, Scalia and his wife Maureen spent the night at Tiefenbrun’s home. Photos of Tiefenbrun and Scalia, and their spouses, decorate the walls of the professor’s Rancho Santa Fe home.

As a guest, Scalia was warm, charming and engaging, the two friends shared a love of travel, and music. But it is his remarkable intellect that Tiefenbrun recalls most often.

“He was so intelligent that you felt honored that he would consider you worthy of being around him,” Tiefenbrun told San Diego’s FOX5.

“He was very kind and very appreciative of anything you did for him or with him. It was an honor to be his friend,” she added when speaking with KOGO talk radio.

The pair’s friendship was one of mutual respect, as Scalia was a staunch conservative and Tiefenbrun a card-carrying progressive, liberal Democratic from New York.

A towering figure on the nation’s legal landscape, Scalia began his career in public service in 1970 as general counsel to President Richard Nixon and assistant attorney general. He went on to write the ruling that said the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a firearm, the Supreme Court’s most important gun case ever.

But to Tiefenbrun, he was a friend, someone who, back in 1994, insisted that she call him by his nickname “Nino,” not Justice Scalia.

“He was one of a kind. He will be missed. He will definitely be missed,” Tiefenbrun says.