Scalia: Tribute to an unwavering Justice, from across political lines

I didn’t share opinions with the late Justice Antonin Scalia on most things. From his views on capital punishment, healthcare and gay rights, I often found myself in opposition to his interpretations. However, I still have endless respect for him as not only a Supreme Court Justice, but as a human being, patriot and pioneer of the modern legal system.

Although the upcoming docket, set to take on issues like affirmative action, healthcare and women’s rights, and the separation of church and state, bodes well for those who didn’t agree with Scalia, his approach to handling cases will be missed.

Scalia has changed the landscape of the modern court and the way that judges, all the way down through District Courts, interpret the law. In a rarely delivered opinion in the District of Columbia v. Heller case regarding the Second Amendment, Scalia outlined the principle of being an originalist and strictly interpreting the Constitution based purely on the text and language of the law, rather than by interpretation. With regards to the Constitution, Scalia viewed as dead and unless amended, to take strictly what the language said. It is because of Scalia that people are now referred to as “strict” or “loose” constructionists, and he has ignited a conversation over how statutes and the Constitution should be read and interpreted.

In addition to shifting the legal landscape, Scalia made the Supreme Court and its decisions relevant in a way that no one could have imagined. He made boring, mundane legal topics exciting and anticipated by the masses. Rarely do average people follow court cases, and I highly doubt that most people could name all nine Justices, but Scalia is largely a household name. Because of his plainly worded, often feisty, sarcastic and scathing opinions, Supreme Court decisions are highly discussed by average Americans. In some sense, Scalia was like the Supreme Court version of Donald Trump (or rather, Donald Trump is the presidential candidate version of Scalia) – firm in his convictions, slightly bigoted and no doubt on the wrong side of history in some cases, but appealing to the American masses because of his plain-spoken nature and passion for what he believed was right.

One example of this was the 2003 case that struck down anti-gay sodomy laws. In his dissent, Scalia controversially wrote, “[m]any 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.” While this was met with outcries and rage, and made some people fear gay people, it still got people talking and started a conversation. I believe that Scalia would have welcomed the fiery outcries and passionate opposition speech because it proved that people were standing up for what they believe in, as Scalia himself always did.

In addition to making the Supreme Court relevant, Scalia also, arguably, shaped the minds of his fellow Justices and the law-making community. Because of his tendency to disregard committee hearings and prior legislative history with regards to statutes, lawmakers had to carefully choose each word in a statute that would become law to ensure that it would stand up to Scalia’s scrutiny, as he placed emphasis on the wording itself, not the intent (as seen through the wording in “Obamacare” and recent court ruling).

Moreover, Scalia also had great influence over his peers and wasn’t afraid to call them out when he thought they were wrong, or even when they were right for what he viewed as the wrong reasons. For this reason, it was rare that he could get five justices to agree with him; thus why he rarely penned opinions. His nonchalance about challenging his peers is best exhibited in an Atlantic article written by Garrett Epps, where he wrote of Scalia, “[h]e dismissed an opinion by his fellow Reagan appointee, Sandra Day O’Connor, by saying it ‘cannot be taken seriously.’ He attacked his own chief justice, John Roberts, for ‘faux judicial modesty.’ He was merciless in his scorn for Anthony Kennedy, another Reagan appointee, dismissing his marriage-equality opinion as ‘mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.’” Scalia didn’t care what others thought of him, and was always willing to challenge others and voice his true feelings.

Turn on any Presidential debate today – Republican or Democratic – and you will hear members of both parties accusing each other of flip-flopping their views and changing their beliefs on issues depending on their backers’ opinions. No one would ever accuse Scalia of that. Scalia was a man who refused to back down from a fight; he wouldn’t let up until his opinion was heard, and he didn’t care if no one else agreed with him.

At the end of the day, Scalia represents something that a small part of every one of us can admire: unwavering devotion to personal values, a sense of faithfulness to himself and loyalty to no one, and the belief that justice should always overcome. Perhaps liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed it up best when she said, “I disagreed with most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it.” Whether you agreed with his ideology or not, the effects of Scalia’s 30-year tenure on the bench will be lasting and his absence – both in ideology and in delivery – will surely be felt.