Mar 11, 2001
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Lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court are not the only hapless creatures who find Justice Antonin Scalia formidable, if not intimidating.

Some ducks in northeast Arkansas are alive today because they headed the other way on Jan. 19 when Scalia arrived in hunting gear, in hopes of bagging them like so many assistants to the solicitor general.

"The word spread quickly among the ducks that they were in the presence of a serious intellect," says Kaneaster Hodges, who was Scalia's host and duck hunting guide for the day. "They would come in, but cert was denied, and they flew out alive."

Hodges, a lawyer and former Democratic senator from Arkansas with a gift for storytelling, relished his day with Scalia, whom he described as "an accomplished duck hunter" as well as a "consummate gentleman."

Accomplished as Scalia was, only two ducks were bagged, far lower than the usual catch. "It was not our day to kill ducks," says Hodges.

So how did Scalia happen to be duck hunting in Arkansas on that cloudy January day? Scalia doesn't usually let his weekend plans be known, but this excursion came to light because of the other folks he was hunting with: Republican Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Frank Keating of Oklahoma, and their wives. Scalia shows up, Zelig-like, in the news photographs taken after the outing. Oddly enough, Scalia is seen wearing a suit, while the governors are in camouflage hunting outfits.

It turns out that some months ago, Huckabee had invited Scalia to hunt with him that weekend, having heard through a mutual friend that Scalia loves duck hunting. It undoubtedly would have been a more private excursion, except for an intervening event: the Cotton Bowl, which pitted Arkansas against Oklahoma.

The governors of the two states made a bet on the outcome, with the payoff being a duck hunt hosted by the losing state's governor. Oklahoma beat Arkansas 10-3 on Jan. 1 ("We just ran out of time" was Huckabee's spin on the loss), so it fell to Huckabee to organize the hunt in his state.

According to Jim Harris, Huckabee's communications director, Huckabee decided to invite Keating to join his already scheduled outing with Scalia. With that came a lot more local media attention than Scalia probably had bargained for, but the hunt was on.

Hodges said Scalia told him he had been duck hunting in Louisiana, but Hodges dismissed that as "K through 6." Hunting in the green timber of Arkansas is the "crème de la crème," says Hodges, and Scalia was clearly up for the challenge. "He needed to come up to grade level."

But the ducks had a different idea. It was the last weekend of duck season, so the ducks they saw were "scarce and skittish," according to Hodges. "They've been shot at since the season started in Canada on Sept. 1 and then all the way south. The dumb ones are gone."

The morning passed pleasantly nonetheless, Hodges said, and when the time approached for a scheduled press conference, Scalia instinctively showered and changed from his hunting outfit to a suit. "He came downstairs and saw that the governors were still in camo, and said, 'I've been sucker-punched.' I assured him that in rural America, you can get by wearing camo."

At the news conference, Huckabee apologized to Scalia for the low yield. "A lot of ducks were flying high," said Huckabee, according to an Associated Press account. "We thought it was a great insult to the justice of the United States high court." Huckabee invited Scalia to return next year.

Scalia reportedly laughed and added, "We did a dry run this time. Next time we'll use ducks."

Scalia's love of hunting may come as a surprise, given his New York City upbringing. But Scalia cherishes his Italian roots, and his grandfather in Italy was a hunter. As described in Hanna Rosin's profile of Scalia in GQ last year, one of the justice's prized possessions is a weathered gun once used by his grandfather.

Scalia's favorite magazine, Rosin wrote, is not The Weekly Standard but Ducks Unlimited, and she described him as a studious hunter who will scrutinize his prey and size up its habits and weaknesses before pouncing. Scalia was said to sneak away to hunt "whenever he has a free weekend," and has a freezer full of his prey.

Tony Mauro is the Supreme Court correspondent for American Lawyer Media and Legal Times. His e-mail address is

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