Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies At 79
Scalia was as controversial off the bench as on. In his later years, Scalia would respond to questions about the Bush v. Gore decision — which sealed Republican George W. Bush’s 2000 election as president over Democrat Al Gore — by telling critics to “get over it.” In the 2003-04 term, he went duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney, then rejected calls that he remove himself from a case asking whether Cheney had to disclose records from his energy task force. Scalia advocated an “originalist” constitutional interpretation that hewed to the words of the document and the meaning they had at the time of adoption. Scalia disdained the concept of a “living Constitution” whose meaning could change as society evolved and different justices took the bench. “The Constitution is not an organism. It’s a legal text,” Scalia said in a 2012 public appearance. “It means today what it meant when it was adopted.” He invoked originalism when he wrote the landmark Heller v. District of Columbia decision, which established that the Constitution’s Second Amendment protects individual gun rights.
“It is not the role of the court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct,” Scalia said. When the court voted in 1992 to reaffirm the constitutional right to obtain an abortion, Scalia accused the majority of relying on “personal predilection.” “It is difficult to maintain the illusion that we are interpreting a Constitution, rather than inventing one, when we amend its provisions so breezily,” he wrote. Dissenting from a 2003 ruling that said consulting adults have a right to engage in private homosexual conduct, Scalia said the court “has taken sides in the culture war.” He predicted that the majority would eventually legalize same-sex marriage, a prophecy that came true 12 years later. Scalia was court’s leading proponent of a strict interpretation of federal statutes, preferring to parse statutory language rather than sift through volumes of legislative history. He sought out bright lines in the law and criticized the multifaceted balancing tests used by colleagues.
He issued a blistering dissent in 2015 when a 5-4 majority interpreted President Barack Obama’s health-care law as allowing critical tax subsidies nationwide. Scalia said the majority defied the law’s clear language, called the court’s reasoning “pure applesauce” and “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” In 1990, Scalia joined the court majority in saying a state could require “clear and convincing evidence” of a patient’s previously expressed wish to die before family members could disconnect a life-support system. Scalia said the justices were no more qualified to question a state’s judgment than “nine people picked at random from the Kansas City telephone directory.” Divisive though he was, Scalia maintained an unlikely friendship with the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The two frequently clashed in their written opinions, yet they socialized with one another after hours. Scalia often referred to Ginsburg as his best friend on the court.
Antonin Gregory Scalia was born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, New Jersey. His father was Salvatore Eugene Scalia, an Italian immigrant who became a professor of languages at Brooklyn College. His mother was the former Catherine Panaro, a public-school teacher whose parents had migrated from Italy. Scalia grew up in New York’s Queens borough, where he attended Catholic schools. He studied at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland in 1955 and 1956 before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgetown University the following year. Scalia then earned a degree at Harvard Law School in 1960. After practicing law at Jones Day Cockley & Reavis in Cleveland for six years, he taught at the University of Virginia’s law school until 1974. Scalia then served as legal counsel in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford before working as a law professor at the University of Chicago from 1977 to 1982. President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1982.
In 1986, Reagan nominated Scalia to the Supreme Court. With the Senate simultaneously considering William H. Rehnquist’s ascension to chief justice, Scalia’s nomination drew little attention. He won confirmation by a 98-0 vote, becoming the first Italian-American justice. Scalia proved an aggressive questioner from the bench who relished pointing out what he saw as the logical fallacies of arguments made by attorneys. When the court ruled in 1989 that the Constitution’s free- speech clause protects people who burn the U.S. flag as a form of political protest, Scalia surprised many observers by joining the majority. In 1990, Scalia wrote the court’s decision letting Oregon criminalize the use of peyote, a hallucinogen, even though it was used in American Indian religious ceremonies. He said states didn’t impinge on the free exercise of religion through generally applicable laws that incidentally affected particular sects.
Scalia joined a series of 5-4 opinions that limited congressional power and expanded the immunity of states from lawsuits. He also sought to expand the rights of landowners to demand compensation from the government when their ability to build was limited by environmental regulations. In 2002 Scalia joined a 5-4 decision that upheld a school voucher program for the first time. He opposed the use of race in college admissions, voting to strike down two affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan in 2003. Scalia dissented in 2006 when the court barred the military tribunals the Bush administration had hoped to use to try accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In an earlier Guantanamo case, he voted against the Bush administration, saying it lacked the right to indefinitely detain, without charges, an American citizen captured fighting in Afghanistan. With his wife, the former Maureen McCarthy, he had nine children.