On January 21, 2013, President Barack Obama stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building to be inaugurated for his second term as President of the United States of America. Following the conclusion of the Inaugural events, the excitement was less about the President’s Inaugural Address or the First Lady’s attire. The buzz was about Justice Antonin Scalia’s hat. While this is not the first occasion Justice Scalia has made a statement with his hat, viewers quickly recognized the hat he wore to the President’s second Inauguration was a stunning replica of the hat worn by St. Thomas More in the famous Holbein portrait. Since the moment the picture went viral, the Thomas More Society Law Firm has been bombarded with questions regarding the meaning of the hat and where he received it. Justice Scalia received the hat as a gift from the St. Thomas More Society in Richmond, Virginia. This association of Catholic lawyers, whose volunteer efforts educate and support Catholic lawyers in their profession and the public on the intersection of the Catholic faith, law, and public policy, is not affiliated with our firm.
We spent some time with the Eric Gregory, President of the St. Thomas More Society of Virginia discussing the story surrounding the hat and have summarized the conversation below:
What is your connection to Justice Scalia?
Every year our group hosts a Red Mass Celebration (which is a mass celebrated annually by the Catholic Church for attorneys, judges, law students, and government officials). In 2010, Justice Scalia was the Keynote Speaker for our event.
Where did the hat come from?
After learning that Justice Scalia accepted our invitation to be our keynote speaker, we decided we needed a special gift to express our gratitude. We quickly became set on giving him a replica of the hat St. Thomas More is depicted wearing in the famous Holbein portrait. We began scouring the world trying to find a replica of St. Thomas More’s hat but it proved quite difficult. Finally, one of our dedicated volunteer members, Stephen Reardon, was able to find a milliner (a hat maker) who agreed to collaborate with us to design a specific pattern to make the replica. The hat is handmade with velvet, drawn directly from the painting, and custom-fit for Justice Scalia.
What did Justice Scalia think when he received it?
We gave him the hat after his keynote speech and he was “over the moon”. He immediately tried on the hat and suggested he would wear the hat in academic settings. Little did we know, he would show up at the 57th Inauguration of the United States President wearing the hat we had designed for him.
Are there other hats like this one?
Once we saw how much Justice Scalia enjoyed our hat, it became our signature gift. We now give our keynote speakers the replica of St. Thomas More’s hat. However, there are only four people total who have been given the hat thus far. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus for example, has one of our signature hats, having received it when he delivered the keynote address at our 2011 Red Mass Celebration.
Was there any significance behind Justice Scalia wearing that hat to President Obama’s Inauguration?
I wouldn’t presume to ascribe any motives to Justice Scalia wearing the hat. We certainly wouldn’t want to speak for him and certainly didn’t know he was going to wear it. I think he holds St. Thomas More in great esteem, as we all do, and respects the virtues St. Thomas More stood for. If Justice Scalia’s wearing the hat makes people think about St. Thomas More’s life and his virtues, causing them to become inspired by him, then all the better. But quite simply, it is a velvet hat so it would be very warm and appropriate to wear to an outdoor event on such a cold day.
Where can I get a hat like that?
It holds a very special meaning to our group so we would not want to see its significance diminished by widespread distribution. But if you contact me, I will happily share the information with you. The best way to contact me is by email: firstname.lastname@example.org . We have been absolutely overwhelmed with attention because of this hat. Our group has been around for over thirty years with an all-volunteer staff, with no website yet (though this should be remedied shortly – see www.sainthomasmoresociety.net) so we are doing our best to respond to every inquiry.
What does your group the St. Thomas More Society of Virginia do?
We are a group of volunteers trying to do our part in society being obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We don’t engage in litigation but host symposia and other events to help educate people on important topics related to the intersection of the Catholic faith, law and public policy, and to support our members in their profession. We do this through hosting a Spring Forum (last year’s topic was conscience rights), have a yearly Gala, and Red Mass Celebration where we welcome a distinguished member of the judiciary or the bar, and an annual St. Thomas More Feast Day Mass and breakfast. We are inspired by St. Thomas More, our patron saint, and the virtues he stands for as he was a scholar, a statesman, and an attorney, always obedient first to God.
Whether Justice Scalia’s hat was meant to say he is a principled man who stands for the virtues so valiantly protected by Sir Thomas More or it was merely worn for warmth on a cold day, the hat has served as an inspiration to those fighting to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty.
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm that exists to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty. Based in Chicago, the Society defends and fosters support for these causes by providing high quality, pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court.