Did Justice Scalia Call Justice Thomas "a nut?"

In an interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross (available here), Jeffrey Toobin, author of the new book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, recounts a speech by Justice Scalia that he, Toobin, attended a few years ago. Justice Scalia was asked by an audience member to describe the difference between his judicial philosophy and that of Justice Thomas. Justice Scalia replied, according to Toobin, that he, Scalia, is "a conservative, a textualist, and an originalist, but I'm not a nut." (I'm paraphrasing but that's the quote in its essentials.) Gross asked whether Scalia was thereby saying that Justice Thomas, in contrast, is a nut, and Toobin agreed that this indeed was Scalia's implication.

Here I'd like to suggest that Toobin was both wrong and right. I wasn't at the particular speech that Toobin attended, and so it's certainly possible that the event went exactly as Toobin describes, but circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise. The line "I'm a conservative, a textualist, and an originalist, but I'm not a nut," is a part of Justice Scalia's standard "stump speech," i.e., one of the things he says in Q & A when appearing before audiences of law students and others. (I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Justices having a standard stump speech. All the Justices have one. They couldn't do their day jobs responsibly if they had to deliver completely new remarks on each occasion that they visit law schools, bar associations, etc.) Accordingly, I'd be very surprised if what happened at the event Toobin attended didn't go like this: 1) Scalia is asked the question about the differences between his judicial philosophy and that of Justice Thomas; 2) Scalia says something about Justice Thomas's judicial philosophy; and then 3) Scalia goes on a riff about his own judicial philosophy, including the "I'm not a nut" line, but when he delivers it he does not intend to be drawing a contrast with Justice Thomas. He's just describing his own philosophy. OR perhaps Justice Scalia begins with his own judicial philosophy, including "I'm not a nut," and then gets around to describing where he and Justice Thomas disagree. But it strikes me as extremely unlikely that Justice Scalia would deliberately imply that Justice Thomas is a nut.

Thus, I think that Toobin probably misunderstood the point Justice Scalia was trying to make. However, I think Toobin is right that at least an unintended implication of Justice Scalia's comment is that he thinks that Justice Thomas is indeed "a nut." What Justice Scalia means by saying he's not a nut is that even when his conservative, textualist and originalist philosophy would lead to dramatic conclusions with respect to various constitutional questions considered as matters of first impression, he nonetheless accepts longstanding precedents to the contrary. Thus, his philosophy standing alone might call for the invalidation of most federal administrative agencies or the conclusion that the Bill of Rights does not limit state government, but so ruling would be terribly destabilizing to the legal order---in a word, nuts---and thus he accepts stare decisis. Justice Thomas, he has said, does not accept stare decisis, or accepts it to a much lesser degree.

So Toobin probably misattributed to Justice Scalia an intentional allegation that Justice Thomas is a nut, but he was probably right in hearing the logical implication.