The mystery was elucidated by Richmond University of Law Professor Kevin C. Walsh, who explained:
The hat is a custom-made replica of the hat depicted in Holbein’s famous portrait of St. Thomas More. It was a gift from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond, Virginia. We presented it to him in November 2010 as a memento of his participation in our 27th annual Red Mass and dinner.
It is not unlikely that Justice Scalia was intentionally making a reference to his own support of religious liberty in connection with the Obama Administration’s attempts to force Catholic institutions to act in opposition to church teachings by mandates requiring funding of employee birth control and abortion.
Even more bizarre was the newly-inaugurated president’s appearance at Inaugural Balls incongruously wearing a white bow tie with a dinner jacket.
There must surely be White House specialists in protocol available to advise the ill-informed on what is and what is not correct in matters of this kind.
One correspondent of a list I read suggested that President Obama may have intentionally chosen a white tie (sometimes worn to indicate status as staff with a dinner jacket at evening events) as a kind of riposte to former President Clinton’s unkind 2008 remark to the late Senator Kennedy dismissive of Senator Obama’s candidacy: “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.”
Of course, it also might simply have been a casual expression of modernist contempt for traditional norms and customs.