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5 Facts About Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016)

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scaliaU.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79. He reportedly died in his sleep during a visit to Texas. Here are five facts you should know about one of the leading conservative voices on the nation’s highest court:

1. Antonin Scalia (nicknamed “Nino”) was born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, N.J.  He attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, a military school run by the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church, and studied History at Georgetown University. After graduating as valedictorian from Georgetown in 1957, he attended Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude. After graduating from Harvard Scalia worked for a law firm in Cleveland, Ohio (1961–67), before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he taught at the University of Virginia Law School (1967–74). While in Virginia, he served the federal government as general counsel to the Office of Telecommunications Policy (1971–72) and as chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (1972–74). In 1974 Scalia left academia when President Ford nominated him to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, an office in the Department of Justice that assists the Attorney General in his function as legal adviser to the President and all executive branch agencies.

2. In 1977 Scalia resumed his academic career at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Law School (1977–82). For part of the latter period he served as editor of Regulation, a review published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. In 1982 President Reagan nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1986, Chief Justice Warren Burger informed the White House of his intent to retire, allowing Reagan to nominate Associate Justice William Rehnquist to become Chief Justice and nominating Scalia to fill Rehnquist’s seat as associate justice. He became the first Italian-American to serve on the Supreme Court

3. Scalia subscribed to a judicial philosophy known as “originalism.” This view holds that the Constitution should be interpreted in terms of what it meant to those who ratified the Constitution in 1788, and is often contrasted with the Constitution as a “living document” that allows courts to take into account the views of contemporary society. Scalia argued that originalism — and trying to figure out the Constitution’s original meaning — is the only valid option for judicial interpretation, otherwise “you’re just telling judges to govern.” “The Constitution is not a living organism,” he said. “It’s a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.”

4. Scalia was an adamant and vocal opponent of “judicial activism,” particularly when it was used to circumvent the democratic process on social issues. Scalia once said that that judges were crossing the line when it came to deciding matters of abortion and gay rights. Lawyers, in particular, are at fault, he added. “[Lawyers] are not trained to be moral philosophers, which is what it takes to determine whether there should be, and hence is, a right to abortion, or homosexual sodomy, assisted suicide, et cetera… And history is a rock-hard science compared to moral philosophy.” Among his decisions in cases involving social issues, Scalia opposed federal legalization of abortion; said same-sex marriage was incoherent; and opposed banning homosexual sodomy laws.

5. Scalia was a devout traditionalist Roman Catholic (one of his sons is a Catholic priest). In an interview in 2013, New York magazine asked him, “Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil? Scalia replied,

You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

His critics frequently claimed that as a “Catholic” justice he was letting his faith influence his rulings. He responded by saying that, “There is no such thing as a Catholic judge,” just as there is no such thing as “a Catholic way to cook a hamburger.” He later admitted there were only two teachings of his faith that affect his judicial work: “Be thou perfect as thy heavenly Father is perfect,” and “Thou shalt not lie.”

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Steve Vinzinski

    Joe a very nice tribute to Justice Scalia. Never tell a lie in reality not that hard to accomplish.To tell a lie you must have malice of forethought,intent and the act.One can stretch the truth such as waking up after a snow storm and saying we had a foot of snow when in reality only ten inches.Sullivan v.New York Times and Butts v.New York Times decided by the United States Supreme Court defined libel and slander as the reckless telling of truth that is a lie . In each case some one was hurt.Justice Scalia statement he tried to his fullest to be perfect like our heavenly Father is commendable.

  • Brian Sciumbata

    Good day. From the little I know about this man, it is evident that he believed that the Constitution of the United States of America was a truly an inspired legal document that meant what it said and was never intended to be interpreted otherwise. Although he was not a perfect man, he appears to have lived his life as though it was a journey to perfection. Indeed, are we not all that imperfect being on that same journey?

    As someone who shares his dream, I mourn his departure. I mourn for the loss of a voice of unwavering and unchangeable truth. I can not bring him back, but I certainly can live a life that stands as a witness to the truths that he aspired to. I may be one dim light, but even the smallest light will pierce the darkest night and attract the wonders eye.

    I am certain the demons in and out of this world are reveling in his demise and think they have won a great victory, and in the short they may have some advantage, but trust me when I say, they have not won forever, and in the end they will lose. This is not a wishful thought, but a hard, cold, and unwavering fact to the nonbeliever, and a warm blanket of impervious security to the believer.

    Truth is not a populus oppinion. Never has been, and never will be.

    God be with you till we meet again.