AUSTIN, Texas – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Monday that if he weren't a Virginian he'd "probably want to be a Texan."
Swearing in new Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht before a packed state House chamber, Scalia said, "I do fit right in here." That came in response to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who suggested in an address moments earlier that Texas and its fiercely conservative politics suited Scalia.
"We welcome you to Texas, sir," Perry told Scalia to applause. "You would fit right in."
Scalia was appointed to the nation's highest court in 1986, which makes him the longest-serving justice currently on the court. He now has come to Texas to administer the oath of office to the state's last three Supreme Court chief justices but joked that Hecht has been on the court since 1988 before assuming his new role.
"Judge Hecht has been on this court for 25 years and already he's chief justice," Scalia quipped. "I've been on mine 27 with nothing to show for it."
Scalia oversees the U.S. Fifth Circuit which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. He also swore in new Justice Jeff Brown who fills Hecht's old slot and becomes the fourth one-time state Supreme Court law clerk to later serve on the court.
Hecht replaces Wallace Jefferson, who resigned last month to join a private law firm in Austin.
Perry, who has been in office since 2000, appointed Brown and named Hecht to his new post. The governor now has chosen six of the nine justices on the Texas Supreme Court, the state's highest civil court.
Addressing hundreds of judges, state officials and top attorneys in the House chamber Perry said: "Today we can say, as we can every day in Texas, that God is good."
Next year, Hecht is poised to surpass the late Joe Greenhill, who served on the court 25 years — 10 of those as chief justice — as the longest-serving justice on the state Supreme Court.
Hecht promised Monday to continue Jefferson's efforts to better ensure that all Texans have access to the court system regardless of economic background saying "this is not a matter of politics, liberal or conservative, it is about good government."
"I do not regard the position to which Governor Perry has appointed me as a career capstone," Hecht said, "certainly not a headstone, but as a cornerstone for the work that lies ahead."