Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) once tried to convince Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to abandon the Supreme Court to run as Sen. Bob Dole’s running mate in the 1996 presidential election.
According to the former Speaker, two decades ago he believed the conservative jurist could be the “rocket fuel” to propel Dole’s candidacy to victory and the White House.
In his account of the effort, published at the Independent Journal Review, Boehner recalls how he and his then chief-of-staff Barry Jackson sought to convince Scalia over a pizza lunch at A.V. Ristorante.
Scalia’s reaction was a mixture of amusement and humility, tempered by an underlying seriousness of purpose that reflected his love of country and sense of obligation to it. He asked very direct questions on both the practicality of running — including how a candidacy would impact his role on the Court, what Dole’s reaction would be if he were to express willingness and, ironically, what the impact on the political process might be of a vacancy appearing on the Court in the months before a presidential election.
Scalia was not a man who harbored any thoughts of seeking elective office, which intensified his appeal. But in spite of his personal misgivings, he also understood what was at stake for the country, and felt compelled to listen, out of a sense of duty.
Boehner recalled that several days after their lunch, Scalia offered his response in the form of a quote from one-time Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes: “The possibility is too remote to comment upon, given my position.”
According to Boehner, Dole — who was skeptical of the idea that Scalia would leave the Court — laughed when he heard Scalia’s answer, telling Boehner “He didn’t say no, so that means yes.”
In hindsight, I believe Sen. Dole had a sense that the country needed Scalia to stay where he was. He placed Scalia on his list of contenders, but ultimately chose Jack Kemp to be his running mate.
The Kemp selection accomplished the goal of bringing excitement to the ticket. It also ensured that the nation would continue to benefit from Justice Scalia’s service on the U.S. Supreme Court — service we now know would continue for nearly two more decades.
Scalia died Saturday at a ranch in Texas. He was 79 years old.