Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death this past month has been the talk of the political realm. There has been debate over whether Obama should nominate a replacement, which would shift the dynamic of the Court to the left for the first time in over two decades. His death has considerably raised the stakes for the upcoming election, but the political focus on Obama’s actions has overshadowed Justice Scalia and his legacy. Scalia was not the most politically powerful Justice, but he was indeed one of the most important and influential of his era.
Scalia pioneered “originalism,” and consistently acted according to principle than partisan conservatism, which has inspired fellow conservatives, such as Justice Samuel A. Alito. Scalia made every point to prevent social and political progress of our nation, dissenting against abortion rights, environment regulations, marriage equality and even desegregation. He redefined the relations between politicians of the opposing aisles by forging a genuine friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who disagrees with him in almost all matters.
Scalia’s education and passion for legal theory equipped him to found a new theory, “originalism,” a theory that views that the constitution should be interpreted as it was written. Scalia pioneered this theory and consistently acted according to this principle rather than on partisan conservatism. He argued, “the only good constitution is a dead constitution. The problems with a living Constitution in a word is that somebody has to decide how it grows and when it is that new rights are – you know – come forth. And that’s an enormous responsibly to place upon nine lawyers.” As a textualist in statutory interpretation, he viewed the constitution as fixed and static.
Throughout his thirty years in Court, he has flexed his power to bar America from moving forward socially and politically. From marriage equality to desegregation and abortion, he opposed them all. In fact, he dissented the ruling that gay people could no longer be imprisoned for having consensual sex. He wrote, “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.”
As for women’s right to privacy, Justice Scalia argued that there is no constitutional right to abortion and attempted to strike down Roe v. Wade.
He helped overturn campaign finance rules, like the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, blocked President Obama’s climate change regulations and actively supported the death penalty, even for those under the age of 18.
Justice Scalia appropriately separated his professional life from his personal life, and proved to everyone that political friendships are possible. His friendship with Justice Ginsburg sparked attention from the media, laypeople and politicians. Scalia, who is brawny and big with conservative backings and originalist jurisprudence forged an enduring friendship with Ginsburg, who is soft spoken, petite and views the constitution as a living document, have forged an endearing friendship. They frequently dine and vacation together. In fact, every Dec. 31, they ring in the New Year together. “They liked to fight things out in good spirit — in fair spirit — not the way we see debates these days on television,” NPR’s Nina Totenberg recalled on the NPR Politics Podcast. Unlike the partisan gridlock in Washington D.C., where senators rarely form bonds of the opposing parties, Scalia represented
Justice Scalia will not be forgotten for countless reasons. He will be remembered for his arduous efforts to stagnate America’s progressive movement, though his efforts fortunately failed. His intellectual contributions have influenced conservatives to view the constitution as a static document. His friendship with Justice Ginsburg has become iconic and has encouraged other politicians to distinguish between political and personal life. For over two decades, he presented his colorful opinions in good spirits, not undervaluing opposing viewpoints, but dissenting in fair ways.
Called “Nino” by close friends and acquaintances, Justice Antonin Scalia will not be forgotten by both the far right and left, especially in the coming months. His empty seat will be even more crucial and eyed, as leaders at both ends try to sway the Court in their favor.