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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is visiting Delaware in May as the keynote speaker for the Saint Thomas More Society, much to the surprise and elation of the local assembly of attorneys and judges who promote ethical principles in the law. Scalia’s participation heightens what already was expected to be a notable evening for the organization because it was gathering to recognize Delaware Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey as the 12th recipient of the Saint Thomas More Award, an annual prize first presented in 1989. “It’s a tribute to the society that the chief justice is accepting the award the same night that Justice Scalia is speaking,” said Harvey B. Rubenstein, a Wilmington, Del., sole practitioner who is a past president of the society and an award winner himself in 1998. The ceremonies are scheduled for a dinner to be held Sunday, May 20, at the Greenville Country Club in Centreville, Md. Scalia’s appearance is the result of an invitation from Thomas P. Sweeney, the society president, who was able to press his case through a nephew who clerked for Scalia. Even so, there were no guarantees. “We doubted that Justice Scalia would come,” said Sweeney, a partner at Richards Layton & Finger in Wilmington. Visitors to Delaware from the U.S. Supreme Court are uncommon enough to be newsworthy but hardly unknown. Scalia is the fourth member of the current court with recent public appearances here, a streak begun in 1998 by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and extended by Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter. Rehnquist spoke at Widener University law school about “All the Laws But One,” a book he wrote on civil liberties during wartime. O’Connor was the keynote speaker in 1998 when the Delaware State Bar Association celebrated the 75th anniversary of women admitted to the bar, and Souter presided at a memorial service in 1999 for J. Collins Seitz, the federal appeals judge and chancellor. In addition, Justice Clarence Thomas informally came to Delaware because of his friendship with businessman John W. Rollins Sr., attending his birthday party as well as his funeral when Rollins died last year. The Saint Thomas More Society has existed in Delaware since 1988, one of a number of such groups nationally and internationally that have a common purpose but function independently. The state chapter is sponsored in part by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington but has an ecumenical membership of about 150 lawyers and judges. “It’s a group of lawyers who get together — and they don’t necessarily have to be Catholic, although many of them are — to try to emulate the principles of Saint Thomas More,” Sweeney said. “We try to be people who encourage ourselves and others to act ethically and respectfully in all matters pertaining to the law.” The society is named for the English lawyer, politician and martyr who lived from 1478 to 1535 and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935. Thomas More has particular significance for the Delaware bench and bar because he was appointed by King Henry VIII as chancellor, a position that was the forerunner for the state’s storied Court of Chancery. Thomas More fell out of favor by opposing the king’s determination to break with the Catholic Church over his divorce and set himself up as the leader of the Church of England. More was found guilty of treason and beheaded, his last words establishing the supremacy of a higher authority in public life as the lawyers and judges of today try to acknowledge. “The king’s good servant, but God’s first,” More said. The Delaware society holds events throughout the year, perhaps best known for its Red Mass in October. This is a religious service, attended by people of different faiths, named for the color of the clerical vestments. The society’s next activity is a lecture on Thursday, March 29, by Notre Dame University Professor David Lodge on “Science and Religion: Friends, Foes, Complementary or Just Different?” The talk, co-sponsored by the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Delaware, will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the First & Central Presbyterian Church on Rodney Square in Wilmington. It is free and open to the public. A reception beforehand will begin at 5:30 p.m. The awards dinner in May is an annual event, featuring a guest address and the presentation of the society’s highest honor that this year has Scalia and Veasey sharing the top billing. Veasey is the fourth member of the Delaware Supreme Court to receive the award, following Justice William Duffy in 1994, Justice Joseph T. Walsh in 1996 and Justice Randy J. Holland in 1999.

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