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John Boehner tried to get Antonin Scalia to run for vice president in 1996

Jessica Wehrman in the Washington Bureau has this nugget from the life of Anton Scalia, the Supreme Court justice who died this weekend: former House Speaker John Boehner once tried to get him to run as vice-president.

Boehner, now retired, writes in an essay for the conservative website the Independent Journal that 20 years ago, as  the chairman of the U.S. House Republican Conference, he tried to persuade Scalia to serve as then-Sen. Bob Dole’s running mate on the 1996 GOP presidential ticket.

Antonin Scalia

This was after four years of President Bill Clinton and Boehner was convinced that Dole, a veteran senator and a war vet, “needed some rocket fuel.”

“The solution, I believed, was right in front of us — or more accurately, across the street from my hideaway office in the Capitol, in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court. It was a brilliant, engaging, conservative Italian-American justice with a large, Catholic family, with potential cross-generational appeal and the ability to help reconstruct the broad coalition that had made Ronald Reagan president 16 years earlier,” Boehner wrote. “It was a pick nobody would have seen coming, and one with the potential to ignite the Dole campaign in a manner no one thought possible.”

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Boehner and chief of staff Barry Jackson met with Scalia at Washington’s A.V. Ristorante for what he described as a “clandestine lunch discussion.” There, over a pepperoni and anchovies pizza, Boehner and Jackson made their pitch.

Scalia, Boehner recalls, reacted with “a mixture of amusement and humility, tempered by an underlying seriousness of purpose that reflected his love of country and sense of obligation to it.”

He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no, either. Instead, he said he’d respond in a few days.

Boehner, R-West Chester, got the call a few days later.

“John, you’re not a lawyer, right? Well, write this down,” Scalia said. And he then gave Boehner the same 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.”

Dole took that as a maybe, and placed Scalia on his list of contenders, but ultimately chose Jack Kemp to be his running mate.

“We’ll never know what might have been, had a Dole-Scalia ticket been forged in the summer of 1996,” Boehner writes. “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.”

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