Contra Mozilla

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Dark Day for the Republic

Justice Antonin Scalia, who has been quite possibly the greatest Supreme Court Justice of our times, has died. In reading comments about this man's life an death, I see that very few people on the right or the left have managed to say much about the man himself, or about his legacy. I have read three or four good statements of mourning or eulogy, and many more either classlessly cheering his death and performing the verbal equivalent of dancing upon his soon-to-be-filled grave, or fretting about who (or if) President Obama will appoint to replace him. The latter is at least a relevant topic of concern, but could we not wait for at least a few days, until (say) after the late Justice Scalia's funeral, before speculating on this? Especially given the extremely polarizing nature of the topic at hand, give his friends and family time to grieve.

I have read three intentionally good (and classy) reaction to his passing: one from Texas' Republican governor, Greg Abbott; one from Vermont's Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders; and perhaps above all, the column written by Ross Douthat about Scalia as the intellectual and legal giant that he was (though again he does discuss the appointment implications):
Antonin Scalia, dead unexpectedly this weekend at 79, was not the most politically powerful justice during his three decades on the Supreme Court. That distinction belonged to the court’s two swing votes, Sandra Day O’Connor and then Anthony M. Kennedy, respectively the philosopher queen and king of our fraying republican order.

Unlike them, Scalia did not have the opportunity to write all his preferences into the law of the land. For every victory he won, there was a sharp defeat; for every important majority opinion a stinging, quotable dissent. And on the issues he cared the most about – abortion, above all – his defeats were famous and his dissents often not just eloquent but anguished.

But in every other respect, he was the most important Supreme Court justice of his era.
The New York Times also reprises its role as Hell's Mouthpiece (and many commenters in its lower half are all-too-eager to play along, even upping the ante here) and has published an editorial, allegedly about Scalia's legal legacy, but which actually existed as an advocacy piece for Obama to get to appoint another leftist to the bench before departing office. Still, they did manage one (half) paragraph of genuine praise (though it was not intended as such):
From abortion rights to marriage equality and desegregation, Justice Scalia opposed much of the social and political progress of the late 20th century and this one. He wanted to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision on women’s rights to privacy, he dissented on the decision that said anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional.
His passing is celebrated in Hell, and in the halls of those who would see our once great Republic slide further towards decadence and ruin. He is mourned by those who knew him. He is mourned again by those of us who desire to see just rulings based on the laws and legal traditions of our country rather than the capricious whims of the current zeitgeist as embodied in the personal preferences of nine (or five) judges and those from whom they would curry favor.

Update: Robert P. George has also written a good eulogy. Excerpt:
Justice Scalia preached the principle that the Constitution should be interpreted in a way that honors the text—the words on the page—understood as they were intended by those whose act of ratification made them part of the fundamental law of the land. One might have thought this was simple common sense. But the principle had been rejected and abandoned by jurists and legal scholars who wished to expand the authority of judges to declare “unconstitutional” legislation or executive actions that they regarded as behind the times, unfair, unwise, or for some other reason undesirable....

Antonin Scalia was a dear friend to whom I was indebted for many kindnesses. I shall miss him. His death is a grave loss to the Nation and a blow to the cause of fidelity to the Constitution. My deepest condolences to his widow Maureen and to his children and grandchildren. Requiscet in pace.
Saint Thomas More: ora pro nobis!

Second Update: I have been waiting to hear what Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bar Ginsburg would have to say Much as I dislike her as a judge, I also know that she and Scalia were actually friends. Here is her reflection on his passing, and it doesn't disappoint.
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.... It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.
Pray for the repose of Scalia's soul--and the conversion and comfort of that of his friend.

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