Thursday, November 24, 2005


AL Franken, the former "Saturday Night Live" star, found out the hard way not to mess with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who chided Franken as if he were a delinquent schoolboy at Time Warner Center on Monday night.

Scalia, following in the footsteps of Karl Rove and Bill Clinton, was the guest at Conversations on the Circle, a series of one-on-one interviews with outgoing Time Inc. editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine.

The A-list crowd included Michael Eisner, Jack Valenti, Mike Wallace, Tina Brown, Harry Evans and Stanley Pottinger. Scalia, a conservative who believes in a strict reading of the Constitution, is the scourge of liberal Democrats because he led the court's 5-4 majority in voting to stop the vote recount in Florida in 2000.

When Pearlstine opened the floor for Q&A, Franken stood up in the back row and started talking about "judicial demeanor" and asking "hypothetically" about whether a judge should recuse himself if he had gone duck-hunting or flown in a private jet with a party in a case before his court.

Franken was clumsily referring to the fact that Scalia had gone hunting and flying with Dick Cheney before the 2000 election.

First, Scalia lectured Franken, "Demeanor is the wrong word. You mean ethics." Then he explained, "Ethics is governed by tradition. It has never been the case where you recuse because of friendship."

Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons later told PAGE SIX: "Al was not quite ready for prime time." Franken was a "Not Ready for Prime Time Player" on "Saturday Night Live" long before he began hosting a radio show on Air America.

The confrontation with Scalia didn't seem to weaken Franken's interest in running for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota. Franken discussed his possible candidacy afterward at the cocktail reception overlooking Columbus Circle. "I think I got under his skin a little," Franken humbly told us.

Scalia had earlier explained why he voted to allow flag-burning, but not nude dancing, and why the 1964 N.Y. Times v. Sullivan decision — which said the press could not be held liable for wrongful reporting on public figures unless it was guilty of "actual malice" — was wrong. "I don't think that's what the founding fathers intended," Scalia said.

When Pearlstine noted that Scalia had been confirmed by the Senate 98-0, Scalia said, "The two missing guys were [Barry] Goldwater and Jack Garn," both of whom were on death's door. "Make it a hundred!"
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