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John LaFalce, former congressman from WNY, recalls the late Justice Antonin Scalia as an old friend

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may mark a turning point in the direction of the Supreme Court, but for former Rep. John J. LaFalce, it was much more personal: the loss of an old friend.

LaFalce and Scalia became friends through the National Italian-American Foundation, even though they were often on opposite sides of legal issues.

“Primarily because of our mutual Italian ancestry, we became friends, usually bonding over our shared love of Italian pasta and wine,” LaFalce said on Facebook after Scalia’s death over the weekend at age 79.

And in a brief interview Monday morning, LaFalce recalled the time the two were having dinner at an Italian restaurant in Alexandria, Va., only to have to abandon their meals when the then-congressman got called to a vote on Capitol Hill.

Another time, while riding in a car together when there was a Supreme Court vacancy in the early 1990s, Scalia told LaFalce that President Bill Clinton should nominate Ruth Bader Ginsberg to fill it, “despite the fact she and I disagree so much.”

Scalia also came to Buffalo at LaFalce’s request in 1993 to speak at his alma mater, Canisius College. LaFalce didn‘t get much time to spend with Scalia then because the congressman’s father died during the visit, but LaFalce recalled hearing that Scalia loved his visit to Chef’s Restaurant.

LaFalce, 76, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat who served in the House from 1975 to 2003, noted that he enjoyed attending oral arguments at the Supreme Court and that Scalia would always get him a seat.

“Agree or disagree with him, he was an intellectual giant on the court,” LaFalce said on Facebook.

However, the two men fell out of touch after the 2000 Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision, which sealed George W. Bush’s election to the presidency over Al Gore.

“That decision was just too much for me to take,” LaFalce said. “The battle over approval of President Obama’s nominee to succeed him will be titanic, as that person could shape the future not only of the court, but of America.”