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C. Fraser Smith: Antonin and Sandy

Could a very liberal Maryland legislator and the nation’s most conservative Supreme Court justice ever find common ground?

Why would they bother?

Unlikely as it may seem, the answer to question one was an emphatic yes.

And to question number two: baseball.

From the very beginning of their chance meeting, the ground was baseball. The game brought them together at least once year at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

For Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, baseball was a deal neither could refuse.

They met at a Johns Hopkins University alumni event. Both were guests.

The then-university president, William Richardson, introduced them.

A hate-crime law passed in Wisconsin was on the court’s docket. Rosenberg had written a similar law for Maryland.

“May I come to the oral arguments?” the delegate asked after they shook hands.

“Of course,” said the justice. “Call my secretary.”

President Richardson, knowing something about both men, joined the conversation.

“Have you been to Camden Yards?” he asked Scalia, who said no.

“Would you like to come to a game with me?” Rosenberg asked.

Would he ever!

“It’s a trade,” the justice said, sealing the deal: the ballpark for the courtroom.

Every year since then, Rosenberg sends a copy of the Orioles’ schedule to Scalia’s office. The justice chooses a Yankee game – unless his New Englander wife, Maureen, comes. She’s a Red Sox fan – a temporary dissenter.

Scalia got his Yankees. Rosenberg got his arguments — the Obamacare case, for example.

It was a nice bonus for this legislator, who also teaches at the University of Baltimore Law School.

On summer evenings when the Os are in town the delegate can be found behind home plate. He’s there with two of whom he likes to call his 81 closest friends. Once a year or so, one of them wore a Yankees cap. Seldom did anyone know they were at a game with a fan from the high court.

The two men did talk about the law and politics, but mostly it was about the game.

“I didn’t want it to be a busman’s holiday. He doesn’t show up in his robes or even in a suit,” Rosenberg said.

Occasionally the court dealt with matters where Rosenberg had more real-world experience: the intent of lawmakers when they passed various laws.

“The court decides what the intent was,” Scalia said, leaving no room for discussion.

“Technically,” Rosenberg said, “I agree. The court is the ultimate arbiter of intent.” Not the end of such a discussion, one imagines.

Rosenberg says the supreme bench – including Scalia – had scant regard for legislators or the legislative process.

“Nobody on the court ever ran for sheriff,” he said. In other words, no one on the court had personal knowledge of what it took to run for office, sit in committee and cast votes that might end a career. Scalia and his colleagues serve for life

More of the real world intervened after 9/11. Until then, Scalia drove himself to the park. After 9/11, U.S. marshals were behind the wheel.

Did the delegate think baseball and personal friendship had any impact on a man not known for adjusting his views?

“I’d like to think he had a little more regard for the legislative process because of our relationship,” Rosenberg said.

True or not, Scalia recently suggested the court could use some loosening of its ties with Ivy League law schools.

Might be time, he suggested, to think about having a wider array of Americans on the court – maybe an evangelical.

A week or two ago, Rosenberg called to check on his seat for a March 2 hearing. Everyone had gone for the day — everyone but Scalia.

“Call my secretary,” the judge said, as he had 20 years earlier.

“We have your seat,” the secretary said.

Rosenberg said he plans to be there.

A deal’s a deal.

C. Fraser Smith is host of Inside Maryland Politics on WYPR. His column runs Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.