Considering Antonin Scalia’s legacy


As a young American who tends to lean left on social issues, it was easy for me to dislike Justice Antonin Scalia. However, when I heard that some were rejoicing at the news of his death, I was taken aback. No matter how much I disagreed with his opinions, I respected how he devoted his life to his beliefs.

Justice Scalia’s opinions seemed absurdly dated due to his fervent rejection of the concept of a “living Constitution.” During a National Public Radio interview he stated, “Go back to the good, old dead Constitution.” Despite originalism being a minority among schools of legal thought, Scalia’s application of it led to its introduction in law schools. Universities hired professors who favored originalism to diversify their faculty, cementing originalism as a respectable approach to constitutional interpretation.

While Clarence Thomas is the only other justice to use the orginalism approach, Scalia’s entertaining, aggressive writing garnered the approach, and him, notoriety among liberals and popularity among conservatives. Matt Ford of The Atlantic wrote, “Reading an Antonin Scalia opinion with which you agreed was like uncorking champagne.” If you disagreed, it was like taking a champagne cork to the eye. And, oh, is it easy to disagree with him.

A few of Justice Scalia’s most discussed views regarded abortion, marriage equality, and the death penalty. He argued that there was no text within the Constitution that demonstrated the right to an abortion, and consistently voted to restrict the practice. Many even believe that if Roe v. Wade was reversed during his tenure, Scalia would have written the opinion himself.

In Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia wrote the dissent against the Court’s decision to outlaw criminal penalties for homosexual acts. He 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.”

This “homosexual agenda” surfaced again when Obergefell v. Hodges was brought to the Supreme Court. When the Court decided to overrule bans on same-sex marriage nationwide, Scalia described it as “a threat to American democracy.” He denied any hostility towards gays and lesbians, but rather believed the ruling short-circuited the democratic process.

Of all Justice Scalia’s opinions, I find his position of the death penalty the most jarring. His views were built on the belief that the 8th amendment should be interpreted as it was when the Constitution was written, when capital punishment was common. This belief led Scalia to vehemently oppose modern restrictions such as bans on juvenile death sentences and executions of the mentally disabled.

Although many disagree with Justice Scalia’s opinions, his loyalty and relentless dedication to his beliefs command respect. Chief Justice Roberts, who was considerably more moderate than Scalia, spoke on behalf of the Court saying, “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.” President Obama, a likely critic of Scalia, showed sympathy to the Scalia family, declaring, “He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges to serve on the Supreme Court.”

When asked about his legacy, Scalia said “You know, for all I know, 50 years from now I may be the Justice Sutherland of the late-twentieth and early-21st century, who’s regarded as: ‘He was on the losing side of everything, an old fogey, the old view. And I don’t care.”  Justice Scalia’s sheer tenacity is one of many reasons he will be remembered as a distinguished justice of our time, even if we did not agree with his ideologies.



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