That’s All I’m Going to Say for Now

An ill-planned duck hunting trip sours under the media scrutiny. Justice Scalia makes a firm statement, and Matthew Summers-Sparks tails him through a day of saying not much else.

Despite pressure from congressional Democrats, newspaper editorials and professors of legal ethics, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said again that he will not recuse himself from a case involving his duck-hunting partner on a recent vacation: Vice President Cheney…

‘It did not involve a lawsuit against Dick Cheney as a private individual,’ Scalia said. ‘This was a government issue. It’s acceptable practice to socialize with executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them. That’s all I’m going to say for now. Quack, quack.’

Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2004

The phone rang. Scalia glared at the caller ID. It was the media. Again. They’d already called seven times this morning, with more questions about the Supreme Court justice’s hunting trip with Dick Cheney, still asking, ‘Will you recuse yourself? And if not, why not?’

The phone continued to ring. Scalia would not recuse himself. One does not rise to the ranks of the U.S. Supreme Court by recusing oneself at the drop of a hat. Sure, Dick Cheney was the vice president, and sure, they’d gone hunting at a weird time, everything considered, but they’d been friends for years. Nothing wrong with that. He glared at the ringing phone. Who do they think they’re jerking around? The combative conservative wanted to tear into the reporters with a furious tirade…but couldn’t. Something had happened…

Earlier that morning, as Justice Scalia stood on the ledge of his tub, scrubbing at a line of hard-to-reach mildew, he lost his balance. The next thing he knew, he was lying flat on his bathroom floor beside several bars of soap, a rubber ducky, and a house slipper. A pain pounded at the base of his skull. Even after the pulsing subsided, his ability to communicate hadn’t returned to normal.

The phone continued to ring. Scalia picked up the receiver and shouted the single phrase he’d been able to speak since his early morning accident:

‘Quack, quack!’

‘I’m surprised you’re sticking by your guns,’ came the reply.

Scalia exhaled loudly and slammed the phone into its cradle. A sad realization sunk into the justice’s mind: That’s all I’m going to say for now. Disgusted, he let fly a fierce ‘Quack, quack!’

He needed to get away, to clear his head of all this duck business. He jogged from his condo, hopped into his Ferrari Testarossa, and motored through the streets of D.C. Could a duck drive a Ferrari? Of course not. No, he was a man, and not just any man—a Supreme Court justice who could shift in an awesome Italian sports car. At a stoplight he gave himself a quick look-over. Nothing was out of the ordinary. He looked like he did every Saturday morning—dressed in jeans and a dark sweater. He was a man, a man with a plan, and right now that plan was to burn rubber with his pal the vice president.

Justice Scalia pulled up to Cheney’s place, informed Dick of his presence—Honk, honk!—and waited in the driveway, gunning the Testarossa’s motor—Vroom, vroom!

He waited, checked his watch, then waited some more. Cheney always ran late on weekends. Scalia muttered a low ‘Quack, quack!’ under his breath.

The vice president finally appeared from behind a heavily fortified door, partially obscured by a large tree branch and a sign reading ‘Dick’s Bunker.’ He waved as he purposefully strode to Scalia’s mighty machine, then eased into the passenger seat. He playfully punched his old chum’s upper arm.

Antonin Scalia set his hand on his friend’s shoulder. He opened his mouth, then stopped just short of speaking. He thought, How do I explain to my friend of 18 years that I can only speak like a duck? Unsure of what to say or how to communicate his thoughts, Scalia looked deeply into his friend’s eyes, hoping for some faint existence of E.S.P. Finally he said, ‘Quack, quack!’

Cheney smirked. ‘Quack, quack, yourself, Tony. What’s up? I can’t go back to Louisiana this weekend. I gotta scrub the bathroom.’

Scalia pointed to the growing bruise on the back of his head and shook his head at the country’s second-in-command, attempting to warn him about… something involving the ducks? ‘Quack. Quack.’ he said.

‘You okay?’ asked the vice president.

Through hand gestures and facial contortions, Scalia again attempted to convey his thoughts: Their duck-hunting trip was haunting him, and he was wrestling with questions he couldn’t articulate. Is the media scrutiny too intense? Have the Louisiana ducks put a hex on me? He had more questions than answers, which made him frustrated, which made him angry, which made him scream.

‘Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!’

Dick Cheney had never seen his friend—much less any member of the Supreme Court—so convincingly act like a duck A chickadee, yes, a moose, sure, and a woodchuck more than once, but never an animal in pursuit of which he had boarded Air Force Two, jetted from D.C. to Louisiana, and spent nine days hunting. This freaked out the V-P.

Rising out of the Testarossa, Cheney said, ‘I’m going to ‘duck’ back into the fort. Heh, heh.’ As he disappeared into his hideout, Scalia cursed him with a couple of quiet, spiteful quacks, then peeled out, leaving a long rubber burn on the vice president’s driveway.

After repeatedly cursing out red lights and fellow motorists with duck calls, it finally hit him! Scalia realized how to make the quacking stop! At the next light he took a sharp left and motored over to his chambers, dashed inside, slipped into his judicial robe, and opened a decision he had penned and practically poured his very essence into.

Wielding his pen, he drew a single red line through the sentence: The State of Alabama amended its Constitution in 1990 to declare English the official language of the state of Alabama. Then, moving over to the margin, he wrote: The State of Alabama amended its Constitution in 1990 to declare Quack, quack! the official language of the state of Alabama.

He breathed a sigh of relief and with it gasped—‘I’m glad that’s over!’

Matthew Summers-Sparks lives in London. His writing has appeared in the New York Times and McSweeney’s. More by Matthew Summers-Sparks