Antonin Scalia: Supreme Human Being

I don’t know if the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia set off a flourish of revelation. Or if the primary battle in South Carolina is spawning new heights of political rhetoric.

But the week following Scalia’s death produced some great social commentary. I want to share some of those pieces with you.

But I especially want to pay tribute to the memory of Antonin Gregory “Nino” Scalia.

He was truly a supreme human being.

Before I get to the impactful life of Justice Scalia, I want to commend four articles that brimmed with insight this week.  Please read them at your leisure:

Now to Antonin Scalia. 

Supreme Personality and Character

I have a few friends who knew Justice Scalia and greatly enjoyed his warmth, wit, musical gift (he loved to play the piano and lead others in singing), gregarious nature, delight in Italian food (he had lunch at the same DC Italian restaurant for forty years) and jovial personality. 

Though polar opposites in legal worldview, Justice Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were “buddies” who enjoyed opera and taking vacations together with their spouses. Scalia also reached out to Justice Elena Kagan–a staunch secular progressive–and took her to shooting ranges for target practice (not at her!). 

The rest of the DC political class should pay attention to such humility and comradery.

Supreme Faith and Family 

Antonin Scalia was a devoted Catholic who loved His Lord and practiced his faith. He was married to his wife Maureen for fifty-five years, fathered nine children, and had over thirty grandchildren and great-grandchildren–all of whom adored him.  

His son Jim was interviewed on television this week and shared how his dad deeply loved his family–and that what you saw in public of Antonin Scalia you also saw in private.  His family legacy will be great. 

Supreme Legal Brilliance  

Justice Scalia taught us that the law matters. That the law is the written word–period. And that the written word takes its meaning from how history understands it–not what we wish it to mean. 

He tirelessly taught that a “living” constitution (bad idea) is like an open marriage: that weakening the contract destroys the relationship it was meant to protect. 

Thus, he championed constitutional originalism. Here are ten samples of his eloquence: 

1. “What is a moderate interpretation of the text? Halfway between what it really means and what you’d like it to mean?” (Remarks at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., 2005.) 

2. “There is nothing new in the realization that the Constitution sometimes insulates the criminality of a few in order to protect the privacy of us all.” (Majority opinion, Arizona v. Hicks, 1987.) 

3. “God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools … and he has not been disappointed. … If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.” (Speech at Living the Catholic Faith conference, 2012.)  

4. “If you think aficionados of a living Constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again. You think the death penalty is a good idea? Persuade your fellow citizens to adopt it. You want a right to abortion? Persuade your fellow citizens and enact it. That’s flexibility.” (Speech, Wilson Center, 2005.)

5. “A law can be both economic folly and constitutional.” (Concurring opinion, CTS Corp. v. Dynamics Corp of America, 1987.)

6. “If we’re picking people to draw out of their own conscience and experience a ‘new’ Constitution, we should not look principally for good lawyers. We should look to people who agree with us. When we are in that mode, you realize we have rendered the Constitution useless.” (Speech, Wilson Center, 2005.)

7. “It is one of the unhappy incidents of the federal system that a self-righteous Supreme Court, acting on its members’ personal view of what would make a ‘more perfect Union’ (a criterion only slightly more restrictive than a ‘more perfect world’) can impose its own favored social and economic dispositions nationwide.” (Dissent, United States v. Virginia, 1996.)

8“Bear in mind that brains and learning, like muscle and physical skill, are articles of commerce. They are bought and sold. You can hire them by the year or by the hour. The only thing in the world not for sale is character.” (Commencement address, College of William and Mary, 1996.)

9. “We should start calling this law SCOTUS Care … [T]his Court’s two decisions on the Act will surely be remembered through the years … And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.”

10.  “Every tin horn dictator in the world today, every president for life, has a Bill of Rights,” said Scalia, author of the 2012 book “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts.” “That’s not what makes us free; if it did, you would rather live in Zimbabwe. But you wouldn’t want to live in most countries in the world that have a Bill of Rights. What has made us free is our Constitution. Think of the word ‘constitution;’ it means structure.” 

Supreme Friendships

What did his closest colleagues think of him?

Samuel Alito: “He was a towering figure who will be remembered as one of the most important figures in the history of the Supreme Court and a scholar who deeply influenced our legal culture. His intellect, learning, wit, and memorable writing will be sorely missed.”

Stephen G. Breyer:  “Nino Scalia was a legal titan. He used his great energy, fine mind, and stylistic genius to further the rule of law as he saw it. He was a man of integrity and wit. … He loved his family. He also loved ideas, music, and the out of doors. He shared with us, his colleagues, his enthusiasms, his humor, his mental agility, his seriousness of purpose.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the [Supreme] Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. … It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.”

Elena Kagan: “His views on interpreting texts have changed the way all of us think and talk about the law. I admired Nino for his brilliance and erudition, his dedication and energy, and his peerless writing. And I treasured Nino’s friendship: I will always remember, and greatly miss, his warmth, charm, and generosity.”

Anthony Kennedy: “His insistence on demanding standards shaped the work of the court in its private discussions, its oral arguments, and its written opinions. … [The] foundations of Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence, the driving force in all his work, and his powerful personality were shaped by an unyielding commitment to the Constitution of the United States and to the highest ethical and moral standards.”

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice: “He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he so loyally served.”

Sonia Sotomayor:  “My colleague Nino Scalia was devoted to his family, friends, our court, and our country. He left an indelible mark on our history. I will miss him and the dimming of his special light is a great loss for me.”

Clarence Thomas: “Justice Scalia was a good man; a wonderful husband who loved his wife and his family; a man of strong faith; a towering intellect; a legal giant; and a dear, dear friend. In every case, he gave it his all to get the broad principles and the small details right. … It is hard to imagine the court without my friend. I will miss him beyond all measure.”

Supreme Legacy

Looking at the three branches of the American government over the past fifty years, the greatest president of my lifetime is Ronald Reagan.

The greatest Supreme Court Justice is Antonin Scalia.

It’s harder to choose the greatest congressional leader because few in recent history have made a huge mark. The closest, in my opinion, is Ted Cruz whom Dr. James Dobson strongly endorsed this week.

If Ted Cruz isn’t elected president of the United States in 2016, then maybe the next president can nominate him or someone like him to take Scalia’s place.

That would make Nino (and all Constitution-loving Americans) supremely happy.

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