Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia found himself the subject of some unwanted media attention in late March after he made a crude gesture in response to a reporter’s question while leaving a religious service in Boston.
Scalia was walking out of a special mass for members of the legal profession at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross March 26 when Boston Herald reporter Laurel J. Sweet asked him how he deals with those who complain about his public displays of religiosity.
“You know what I say to those people?” Scalia said, making a gesture with his fingers under his chin. When Sweet appeared perplexed, Scalia explained, “That’s Sicilian.”
Scalia added, “It’s none of their business. This is my spiritual life. I shall lead it the way I like.”
Peter Smith, a freelance photographer for the Boston Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston archdiocese, captured the moment on film and later told reporters he heard Scalia utter an expletive. Smith later gave his photo to the Herald, which published it. He was then dismissed by the Pilot.
Not surprisingly, Scalia disputed the turn of events. On March 29, the Herald printed a letter from Scalia that read in part, “It has come to my attention that your newspaper published a story on Monday stating that I made an obscene gesture – inside Holy Cross Cathedral, no less. The story is false….”
Scalia called Sweet “an up-and-coming ‘gotcha’ star” and explained that the gesture he used merely means “that I could not care less.”
Added Scalia, “How could your reporter leap to the conclusion (contrary to my explanation) that the gesture was obscene?... From watching too many episodes of The Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene – especially when made by an ‘Italian jurist.’ (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)”
The exact meaning of Scalia’s gesture remains in dispute. In an effort to clear up the matter, the Herald consulted with several Italian-American actors who play mobsters on HBO’s popular crime drama “The Sopranos.”
“It’s an obscenity,” said Joseph Gannascoli who plays a crime boss on the program. “It’s something you would do after paying a bookie but not something you would do in church.”