Former Speaker John A. Boehner tried to persuade Antonin Scalia to be former Sen. Bob Dole’s running mate on the 1996 Republican presidential ticket, he recalled after the Supreme Court justice’s death.
“We’ll never know what might have been, had a Dole-Scalia ticket been forged in the summer of 1996,” Boehner wrote in the Independent Journal Opinion on Tuesday . “But we do know our nation was blessed to have Antonin Scalia defending the Constitution on the highest court in the land for a generation. And the legacy he leaves is that of one of America’s greatest justices, of any era.”
At the time, Boehner was chairman of the House Republican Conference, “And out of a sense of duty, he listened,” he wrote of his conversations with Scalia.
“And it was perhaps out of that same sense of duty that Scalia, while not saying ‘yes,’ also didn’t say ‘no.’”
Scalia met with Boehner and his chief of staff at the time, Barry Jackson, at the since closed A.V. Ristorante.
“It was there that Jackson and I made our pitch, over a pepperoni and anchovies pizza,” Boehner wrote. He said Scalia’s appeal intensified because he did not have thoughts of elective office.
Boehner recalled Scalia called him a day or two later to respond. “’John, you’re not a lawyer, right? Well, write this down,’ Scalia said then dictated his response, which [I later learned] were the exact words Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes had used in response to similar entreaties decades earlier: ‘The possibility is too remote to comment upon, given my position.’”
Boehner shared the response, with Scalia’s permission, with Dole and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Dole responded, “He didn’t say no, so that means yes.”
The former speaker said he shared the story now to “shed light” on Scalia.
“After four years of Bill and Hillary Clinton, I believed, the country was hungry for leadership grounded in principle,” Boehner wrote. “Dole needed some rocket fuel.”
“He needed a running mate who would act as a force multiplier for the argument that was the centerpiece of Dole’s campaign, while also bringing an element of buzz and excitement that had been missing, particularly among Reagan-Gingrich conservatives yearning for a champion,” the Ohio Republican wrote.
Boehner cited Scalia’s brilliance, engaging nature and conservative Italian Catholic background. He also wrote that Scalia had cross-generation appeal and could “help reconstruct the broad coalition that had made Ronald Reagan president 16 years earlier.”
Dole chose former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp as his running mate and lost to Clinton.
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