A Conservative Giant: Antonin Scalia

Antonin Scalia took his conservative judicial principals seriously, even when reason called for him to take positions in which he didn’t like the outcome. He voted to expand the rights of criminal defendants, and dissented in a decision to uphold the legality of the special prosecutor statute in 1988. “He voted in 1989 to strike down a law making it a crime to burn an American flag,” the NYT points out in an illuminating obituary of one of the court’s longest serving justices.

WSJ editorial: “Justice Scalia was known for his personal goodwill and friendship even with those he disagreed. In this respect he lived his philosophy that self-government requires its partisans to be able to debate and then tolerate opposing views even if those views prevail in politics.”

Two of his best personal friends on the Supreme Court were liberals: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan. He seldom agreed with them about the law, but they enjoyed challenging each other’s points of view.

President Obama called him a “towering” figure who “will be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers” on the Supreme Court. NYT editorial: “in many ways the current conservative majority, whose decisions often reflect an originalist view of the Constitution, can be seen as the Scalia Court.”

Washington Post editorial: “At the court, he earned a title, “Leader of the Opposition,” albeit informally, in a magazine headline. But it fit: Scalia was the intellectual avatar of a conservative movement that took issue not only with modern American jurisprudence but also, in a real sense, with modern America itself…”

At his best, Scalia embodied the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron.” For decades, he wielded mental steel against liberalism, and this obliged progressives to acknowledge their excesses and toughen their arguments.

What Made Scalia So Great, by Jeffrey Rosen in The Atlantic:  Scalia “emphasized the importance of separating his personal preferences from his jurisprudential conclusions, but concluded that he was bound by history, rules, and tradition to resist temptation.”

Looking Back, by Jeffrey Tobin: “Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately, he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor.”

His revulsion toward homosexuality, a touchstone of his world view, appeared straight out of his sheltered, nineteen-forties boyhood. When, in 2003, the Court ruled that gay people could no longer be thrown in prison for having consensual sex, Scalia dissented, and wrote, “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.” He went on, “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a life style that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”

Scalia Was An Intellectual Phony. Paul Campos argues Scalia “was not a great judge: he was a bad one.  And his badness consisted precisely in his contempt for the rule of law, if by “the rule of law” one means the consistent application of legal principles, without regard to the political consequences of applying those principles in a consistent way.”

Quotes from Justice Scalia in Dissent

Quotes from Justice Scalia in the Majority

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