Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett values unexpected moment with Justice Scalia

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NEW YORK -- On a weekend when Pennsylvania political types mingle on a grand scale, even Gov. Tom Corbett had a chance encounter that left him impressed.

Much of the state's political class -- its Washington and Harrisburg lawmakers, the lobbyists and advisers and general observers -- had descended upon the Waldorf Astoria and nearby blocks for festivities surrounding the annual Pennsylvania Society dinner. On Friday, Mr. Corbett was at the Carnegie Club when he learned Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, unaware of the private "Captains of Industry" reception, had arrived. Mr. Corbett was invited up to meet the U.S. Supreme Court justice.

"It was just serendipity," Mr. Corbett told reporters later. "And the funny thing is I almost said no."

Soon the Pennsylvania governor was sitting with the justice, sipping a gin and tonic and smoking an unidentified cigar. ("They just gave me one. Very mild.")

By Mr. Corbett's telling, Justice Scalia echoed the questions of other onlookers, who were surprised to find so many of Pennsylvania's political and business elite temporarily removed to Manhattan.

"He wanted to know why we were all up here, why the Pennsylvania Society," Mr. Corbett said. "We talked about that."

The governor said he explained the history of the Pennsylvania Society, which describes its origins at a gathering in 1899, when a number of New York-residing Pennsylvanians dined on oysters and Delmonico steaks at the Waldorf.

As attorney general, Mr. Corbett, a Republican, joined a lawsuit against the federal health care law, and he spoke to Justice Scalia of the high court's decision upholding the law.

"I said to him that he agreed with me on health care, on my side, where I said you can't tell us what to buy."

When reporters asked for the best moment of his weekend, Mr. Corbett mentioned catching the musical "Jersey Boys" on Broadway. But then he returned to the tete-a-tete with Justice Scalia.

"It's oftentimes the unplanned that is the most entertaining," he said.

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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