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Editorial: Scalia taught us to stand firm

On Saturday, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was laid to rest and millions in this nation mourned his passing, particularly conservatives who shared his ideological viewpoint.

No matter what side of the political fence Americans stand on, respects are owed to the man who became the longest serving justice in modern history.

Scalia died unexpectedly on Feb. 13 at the age of 79. This is only the second occasion in 60 years in which a justice has died while serving. With Scalia’s death, the high court is now evenly split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals.

A fight is now brewing between Republicans and Democrats over how Scalia’s replacement should be appointed.

Democrats contend that President Barack Obama has authority under the U.S. Constitution to appoint a new justice, which should not be undermined by GOP leaders.

Republicans argue that Obama has consistently made end-runs around the constitution and allowing him to appoint another activist justice will further undermine America’s guiding doctrines.

One thinks that Scalia would have enjoyed this debate because it revolves around the constitution, which he revered.

Scalia was one of 112 justices who have served on the Supreme Court and believed his role was to look for the original meaning of words penned by our founders as the basis for laws.

He argued that a law takes its meaning from how history understands it, not what people want it to mean.

The constitution is “not a living document,” he told a crowd at Southern Methodist University in 2013. “It’s dead, dead, dead.”

As an example, Scalia noted that if it were not cruel and unusual in the 1790s to sentence a convicted murderer to the death penalty, then the constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment should not be interpreted as banning the death penalty.

If the American people wanted to amend the constitution, then Scalia said that act should be done as prescribed in the constitution and not by the appointment of activist judges.

Scalia believed the single most important duty of the Supreme Court was to uphold the rule of law, which held all citizens to the same standards. He felt that level of protection separated the U.S. from governments that ruled by might.

A teacher as well as a judge, Scalia was known as a man with an “elegant mind” for intellectual combat.

He was well known for colorful speeches and opinions, making more comments and asking more questions than any other justice seated on the bench during his tenure.

A 2005 media study also found that Scalia’s quick wit provoked laughter more often than any of his colleagues.

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate Magazine described Scalia’s technique as follows: “Scalia doesn’t come into oral argument all secretive and sphinxlike, feigning indecision on the nuances of the case before him. He comes in like a medieval knight, girded for battle. He knows what the law is. He knows what the opinion should say. And he uses the hours allocated for argument to bludgeon his brethren into agreement.”

He frequently used verbiage unexpected of a justice to make his case.

In his dissenting opinion on the Obamacare case, Scalia referred to the majority’s ruling as “pure applesauce.”

He questioned why, if federal officials could force Americans to buy health insurance under the commerce clause, they could not also force them to buy “broccoli and other vegetables.”

Scalia, who drew fire from liberals for many of his opinions, encouraged people to “have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world” and stand up for their convictions.

He seemed unflappable when voting against affirmative action and other policies that treated minorities as special groups. He noted that the government could not make up for past discrimination by racial preferences.

“In the eyes of the government, we are just one race here. It is American,” he said.

He was a devout Roman Catholic whose son, Paul, entered the priesthood.

As a justice, Scalia was criticized for his support of loosening bars on state support for religious activity or institutions, and for his arguments that there was no constitutional right to abortion.

The outspoken justice frequently took the states’ positions in questions about the division of powers. He believed the constitution granted states all rights not expressly given to the federal government.

He often filed separate opinions in cases to create a record of his reasoning and appeared to have no issue using scathing language when castigating the court’s majority for a ruling that he disagreed with.

And then there were times he sided with liberal justices and sparked outrage from conservatives.

One of these occasions was the 5-4 decision declaring the sale of extremely violent video games to children to be a right of free speech under the First Amendment.

Scalia also voted that it was a First Amendment right for people to be able to burn the American flag.

It was his view that clear lines of separation among the legislative, executive and judicial branches existed within the constitution and no branch should be allowed to exercise powers that had been granted to another.

Scalia taught Americans that you could fight hard but be fair and, above all, you owed it to your country to do so even in the face of stiff opposition.

The son of an Italian immigrant from Sicily, Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1936 and attended public school in Manhattan before going to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he graduated as valedictorian.

He obtained his law degree from Harvard Law School and spent six years in a Cleveland law firm before becoming a law school professor at the University of Virginia.

Scalia served in the Nixon and Ford administrations and became one of the first faculty advisers at the University of Chicago for the newly-formed Federalist Society.

His life will eventually be forgotten as time moves forward because that is the way of things. Scalia’s writings, however, will remain in the annals of history to be studied by scholars for decades to come.

The Supreme Court was designated to be the protector of our civil liberties and Justice Antonin Scalia faithfully stood watch for three decades.

Rest in Peace.

— R.R.


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