Last week, our country suffered a terrible loss; the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
He was one of the most intelligent defenders of the Constitution to ever sit on the Supreme Court. He is also the first justice who I remember learning about when he was confirmed. (when I was in 6th grade).
I admired him in 1986 and throughout his career. His untimely death is a tragedy for his family and the nation as a whole.
Antonin Gregory Scalia was born on March 11, 1936 in Trenton, NJ. As a young man, Scalia had a brilliant academic and working career. He obtained his law degree from Harvard Law School and spent six years in a Cleveland law firm, before he became a law school professor at the University of Virginia.
In the early 1970s, he served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, eventually as an Assistant Attorney General. He spent most of the Carter years teaching at the University of Chicago, where he became one of the first faculty advisers of the fledgling Federalist Society (which is now a powerful think tank promoting conservative legal ideas.)
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed him as judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In 1986, Reagan appointed him to the Supreme Court. Scalia was asked few difficult questions by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. It was one of the last honorable Senate confirmation hearings.
With his unanimous confirmation, he would become the first justice on the Supreme Court with Italian ancestry.
Scalia was always described by both liberals and conservatives as the intellectual anchor for the originalist and textualist positions in the Court’s conservative wing. In other words, he consistently used the common sense approach of interpreting law by looking to the plain language of statutes and the Constitution and adhering to the drafter’s original intent.
His opinions over the years were direct and to the point. He did not mince words.
He was a strong defender of the powers of the executive branch, believing presidential power should be paramount in many areas. He also opposed affirmative action and other policies that treated minorities as special groups. He filed separate opinions in many cases and often castigated the Court’s majority in his minority opinions using scathing, but very interesting, language.
One of the reasons that I admired him so much was the protection he provided to people accused and even convicted of crimes. He was also a devout believer in the 4th Amendment; the right of the people to be free from unreasonable search and seizures. There are many opinions where he was the lone dissenting justice in 4th Amendment cases.
Perhaps the most interesting personal aspect to Scalia’s life was his strong friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While Scalia was arguably the most conservative justice and Ginsburg the most liberal, they were the best of friends. Their families spent many holidays and vacation time together.
This relationship suggests that the Supreme Court may be ideologically divided, but not personally divided.
Yet, I am also deeply concerned about our country in the wake of his death. This president will have the authority to appoint Scalia’s successor. The Senate must confirm the nominee.
This new justice could tip the scales of a divided Court.
I don’t even want to imagine some of the potential nominees. We will just have to see who pans out.
For now, Rest in peace, Antonin Scalia.
Court has adjourned.