Antonin Scalia

U.S. President Reagan and then-nominee Antonin Scalia in 1986. Photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick, White House Photographer
U.S. President Reagan and then-nominee Antonin Scalia in 1986. Photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick, White House Photographer

Updated Saturday Feb. 20

The death on Feb. 13 of Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the conservative wing of America’s Supreme Court,  may be one of those rare events on which history pivots. And given the court’s oversized influence on world affairs, at a critical time for the environment, finance and human rights, the impact will be global.

Scalia died at a Texas ranch where he was vacationing. He was 79, and the longest-serving justice on the court, appointed when Ronald Reagan was president. Scalia was legendary for acerbic, eloquent, and sometimes sarcastic opinions.

His unexpected death is a blow for the court’s conservative faction. Their majority meant they prevailed in rulings with repercussions far beyond American borders; one world-changing example was this month’s 5-4  ruling against president Barack Obama’s “clean power” efforts to tackle global climate change.

 Scalia was “the most influential justice of the last quarter-century, his influence ramifying far outside the Court,” noted a 2011 New Republic story.   He was unloved by “progressives;” witness the satire site The Onion’s  photo today with the simple headline, “Justice Scalia Dead Following 30-Year Battle With Social Progress.” His “Scalia-isms” are legendary, as shown in Business Insider’s roundup today.

Scalia’s death creates a vacancy on the bench that will allow not only for his replacement (the partisan battle over that has already begun), but alter the nature of America’s top court.

Here are two pieces in Facts and Opinions:

The Supreme Court in Wonderland, by Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda columnist

Once upon a time, long ago and faraway, there was a magical kingdom … And then one day the most amazing thing happened. One of the great judges, Scalia of the Sarcastic Sanctimonious Sentences died quite unexpectedly. While in most cases the death of one of the great judges caused some hubbub, the death of the Scalia resulted in a total hissy fit among the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea.

Why Is Mitch McConnell Picking This Fight? By Alec MacGillis, ProPublica, report

After word of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death emerged last weekend, it took Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell less than an hour to announce that the Senate would not entertain a replacement before November. “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he said. McConnell’s blunt declaration was taken as the starkest exhibition yet of the obstructionism that has characterized the Kentucky senator’s stance toward President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Selected excerpts, from F&O archives and elsewhere, that speak to Scalia’s legacy:

” I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” said US President Barack Obama, adding there is time to do so. But he stressed that the day of his death was a day to think of Scalia:

“For almost 30 years, Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia was a larger-than-life presence on the bench — a brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions.

“He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape.  He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.  Justice Scalia dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy:  The rule of law.  Tonight, we honor his extraordinary service to our nation and remember one of the towering legal figures of our time.”

Statements from the U.S. Supreme Court justices on the death of their colleague. Excerpt, statement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: “We are different, we are one,” different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the 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. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.


U.S. court affirms equality of same sex marriage, by Deborah Jones, June 26, 2015. Excerpt:

In a scathing critique of judicial elites, dissenter Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice, wrote: “the Federal Judiciary is hardly a cross-section of America. Take, for example, this Court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single South- westerner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans19), or even a Protestant of any denomination.” Scalia added:

“When decisions are reached through democratic means, some people will inevitably be disappointed with the re- sults. But those whose views do not prevail at least know that they have had their say, and accordingly are—in the tradition of our political culture—reconciled to the result of a fair and honest debate. In addition, they can gear up to raise the issue later, hoping to persuade enough on the winning side to think again … That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work … But today the Court puts a stop to all that.”


The racist in the mirrorby Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda column, January, 2016:

Justice Antonin Scalia, a longtime opponent of affirmative action, during a recent Supreme Court hearing on the issue, brought up the popular theory in conservative circles that maybe top universities are just too “advanced” for minorities, that they have a better chance of succeeding at less strenuous educational institutes. And so one of the leading legal voices in the United States basically called African-American kids stupid and not as smart as white kids.


During a 2012 lecture he gave at his alma mater, the University of Chicago law school, Scalia was asked  what advice he would give a law student today, reported the school’s alumni magazine. He replied, “Try to find a practice that enables you to have a human existence. I’m not talking about time for goofing off; I’m talking about time to attend to your other responsibilities—to your family, to your church or synagogue, to your community. All of those are real responsibilities.”


“It is not the Atmospheric Protection Agency. It’s the Environmental Protection Agency,” Scalia once famously said. In the following video, in 2012, he explains to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president Shirley Ann Jackson his dissent in a ruling that America’s Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to regulate carbon dioxide.


Obamacare victory shows failure of Scalia’s conservative revolution. By Robert Schapiro, Emory University, June 2015

Justice Scalia once again failed to win over either Justice Kennedy or Chief Justice Roberts, revealing he is losing the war over the Supreme Court’s heart.

Antonin Scalia’s Legacy, by Nina Tottenburg, NPR:


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