On the Death of Someone You Don’t Respect

Antonin Gregory Scalia (March 11, 1936 – February 13, 2016)

160213191516-01-antonin-scalia-super-169Antonin Scalia leaves behind nine children who, from all reports, loved him and a wife who loved him enough to have nine children with him. His best friend on the Court was Ruth Bader Ginsburg – someone I do respect – so that’s nice. They shared a passion for opera and once appeared onstage together as supernumeraries in Ariadne auf Naxos. I don’t wish death on anyone, but I’m relieved that Antonin Scalia’s career is over. Unfortunately, death is usually the way that careers of Supreme Court Justices end; they come together. So you can’t celebrate the latter without appearing insensitive regarding the former.

But that’s all I got. All the nice I can muster for a man whose rulings and opinions caused large and lasting damage to his country and to the world. I’m sure there’s more on the plus side to be said about Antonin Scalia, but I’m not that interested in seeking it out, any more than Scalia was interested in changing his mind about legal and moral matters from the time it was set at about the age of seventeen. He was a bright boy who caught the attention of his Catholic School masters by mirroring their more extreme moral positions and who held their attention by continuing to be bright and brittle and unwavering. Except in those – not all that rare – instances when political expediency required otherwise. When Scalia had to please other masters, those paying his bills or appointing him to office.

Scalia should have stayed a law professor at the University of Chicago, where he could have become more crotchety, acquired more acolytes, inspired a rightwing sequel to The Paper Chase (1973) about a strict-constructionist Professor Kingsley that might have even starred Professor Scalia as himself. In the Scalia version of The Paper Chase, the rebellious student will knuckle under not quit, join the Federalist Society, be appointed to a judgeship by George Bush, and rehear the Allen Bakke case in order to rule in Bakke’s favor and set the precedent that ends Affirmative Action programs once and for all.

Antonin Scalia called his strict constructionism something else — originalism, I think — because, as a Supreme Court Justice at an advanced age, he was still the brightest kid in Catholic School and had to be “special.” But it’s the same recipe with only slightly different ingredients that means the cake the Founders baked is the one we’re stuck with. No “Living Constitution.” No changes except by Congressional amendment. Or by whim of Scalia (e.g., I’m still searching for the Founders’ views justifying “corporations as people” or anything else in the steaming pile of unconstitutional shit called Citizens United). Or when duty to employer calls.


Antonin Scalia’s first political jobs were in the Nixon and Ford administrations where he advised Nixon (incorrectly) that he had the authority to fire the Independent Counsel, assured him (incorrectly) that he personally owned his tapes and did not have to turn them over, advised Gerald Ford (repeatedly and incorrectly) that he could refuse to turn over documents because of executive privilege, claimed (incorrectly) that the Freedom of Information Act was unconstitutional, and did a whole bunch of other stuff that is more easily explained by doing what your boss wants than by the Constitution. Maybe that’s where the originalism thingee comes in? You have to follow the Constitution unless your boss doesn’t like it: then you can be “original” and do the exact opposite.

If one needs any further evidence of Justice Scalia’s political expediency, I give you Bush v. Gore, which gave us and the world George Bush, Iraq, 9/11, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, the middle getting extreme-prejudiced, a global financial meltdown we haven’t seen the end of, and assorted other gifts from Bush & Company that just keep giving.  Oh, and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that – as of yesterday – has one less vote. Bush v. Gore was such a wretched, blatantly political decision, by the way, that the Court took the unusual step of indicating it was the judicial version of a “one-off,” not to be applied in any other situation or used as precedent in any way.

bush and scaliaSo what do you say when someone dies that you don’t respect? You can, if you wish, extend condolences to his or her family and friends. I certainly do, unless the someone is someone like Ted Bundy. But it’s not required. What is required is that you go on to talk at length about why you had no respect for them. Because their death doesn’t change that. It only stops the bleeding.

67 thoughts on “On the Death of Someone You Don’t Respect

  1. Well said. I have been cringing at Facebook posts by people I usually respect. I have avoided speaking to this issue as I too disliked the man and the judgements he passed and look forward to a better man or woman being placed in this crucial post. That said, the slavering, gleeful, rabid howling from my friends on the Left has turned my stomach. It is not necessary to laud the man at his passing but restraint seems to be in order. One can calmly and clearly point out that perhaps it is a good time to appoint a more moderate and thoughtful judge but let is leave the mad laughter and derision to hyenas. Let us stop being hyenas, Left and Right.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. you have posed this question very well. though I am a supporter of Antonin, I have often pondered this same question. Only in my case it was David Bowie. I had no idea how to respond on social media when my friends hounded me for comments. Your tips were very helpful! thank you

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Because this particular someone was a public figure, his career made an impact on the nation and the world, and his passing will have significant repercussions for the future of same. One might as well ask, why comment about anything?

      Liked by 6 people

  3. Well put, I have felt the same in a couple of situations, and have just chosen to follow the old rule of if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all. I can live vicariously through John Oliver. 🙂 Great post, perfect topic.

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  4. Once I heard how Reagan destroyed lives in Hollywood by falsely accusing (slander & libel) directors and other actors of being communists…drove them to financially ruin and even suicide after destroying their professional and personal lives because he wasn’t picked for movie, and when he cut SSDI and IHSS payments drastically on the disabled as president, and ruined the air traffic controller’s union and other airline workers, I shed absolutely NO TEARS when this man who was good friends with the freaky founder of the Church or Satan in San Francisco kicked the bucket.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is so true. It never ceases to amaze me how death or old age seem to exonerate sins. I can remember my mother tsk tsking when Leona Helmsley was sent to jail. She was distraught about a 72 year old being sent to jail. I remember pointing out that she stole from much older people and if she died in jail, so what. She shouldn’t have been a criminal, she chose that life.
    I can’t say I’m happy that Scalia has died. But no more than I can be happy about any death. But I refuse to act as if he was suddenly this paragon of legal justice. He made some horrible decisions, comments and had disgusting beliefs that that damaged people. I am thrilled that he is off the bench.

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  6. If you strongly disagreed on Scalia´s decisions and the philosophy behind during his life time, it would be nothing but hippocracy to applaud or approve it now that he´s passed away. The point is to divide the public person from the private one, which you do at all time in your article. Of course you have the right to critizise his professional legacy as long as you refer to the public person who apparently was controversial – the loving memory of his family and friends is something else and completely out of focus here; therefore it remains entirely untouched by your very well put opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly. I can honestly say I know nothing about the man’s personal life. I have no connection to him at all in that regard. But in his professional (?) life, I and the rest of this world we all live in have a VERY strong connection to his decisions. For those reasons alone, I am honestly thankful, if not joyous that his term is terminated.

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  7. You were a lot more charitable towards that robed annelid than I could bring myself to be. Anyone who went on record as saying “Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached” deserved to join their corpses on the dung heap years ago, preferably after having his head removed and piked on a K Street streetlamp. Now if only Alito would follow suit….

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  8. While I have not studied Scalia’s early career, and would disagree with his advice to Nixon as it is characterized and presented by you, I was extremely thankful for his work on the Supreme Court, and believe strongly in “originalism” as that is the point of law. Nobody is supposed to change the meaning of the words in the laws. They were crafted to mean a specific thing, and to make up some sort of “living document” bs is nonsensical. He was a hero, and your ignorance of the causes of the destruction of the middle class have everything to do with rule bending and corruption and policy made by unelected bureaucrats, with sneaky lobbyists at their elbows. BTW, Scalia got a govt paycheck. Nobody bought him. He didn’t have to campaign for appointment, and he never ran for reelection. My mother told me if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. There. I’ve reinforced your mental image of me as a total prig. I hope that let’s your conscience off the hook about this extremely biased opinion/hit piece masquerading as a serious review of conscience.
    Ta!

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I completely agree with ‘originalism’, or ‘reading the damn paper as it’s written’, which happens to include ‘amending it within the restraints of enumerated federal power’. But, too often (as in always since maybe the fifties) people have used Constitutional principles to get away with their own agendas, ie, to get away with corporatist agendas – the scalia decisions you listed, citizens united, no child left behind, war, war, war, surveillence, etc., and all the similar actions from the ‘other’ side.
    What I would love would be a Supreme Court, and an America, in general, which stuck to the Constitution. But, with either major party and the supreme court justices they select, that doesn’t happen. I’d vote for an amendment to make the Supreme Court a democratic body, just as we amended the US Senate to become democratic.

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  10. You don’t respect him, eh? Sounds like you confuse disagreement with respect. Not interpreting the Consitution the way you’d interpret it is not a character flaw and not changing one’s mind is not a character flaw, either. A strict Constitutionalist interprests our founding documents as they were written at that time, not interpreted as they apply to today’s or tomorrows norms or whims.

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      1. Possibly, I’m beating a dead horse; i see that you disagree with him. But I don’t see a disrespect happening. What could be disrespectful? There is disagreement with the interpretation of the Constitution and disagreement with the way Justice Scalia interpreted current and disagreement that he did not interpret the Consitution the way you’d intepret it. But, where’s the lack of respect?

        Example, I don’t run around saying, “I disrespect ‘x’ person because I disagree with him. I believe when you disagree with someone you are at odds with his values and beliefs, but when you disrespect someone, you are at odds with HIM, his PERSON.

        Are you at odds with Antonin Scalia’s person or personhood and would wish him dead today-if he weren’t already so, or are you at odds with his INTERPRETATION of the Constitution or law or even the way the law is written?

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      2. See the reply to Gus below, that’s at least a starting place for an understanding of my lack of respect … I felt a lot of his views and several major decisions were politically expedient and convenient for his career and inconsistent with his core convictions. I did not wish him dead and clearly stated that in the first paragraph of my original piece. And I was trying NOT to beat a dead horse … or in this case a dead Supreme Court Justice … by counting all the ways I disliked and disrespected him, both professionally and personally. I also disagreed with many of his positions that held to his stated strict constructionist views and with strict constructionism in general. Bush v Gore and Citizens United are the two best examples of decisions when I both disagreed with Scalia and had no respect for him (e.g., because he was clearly in violation of his own principles). I hope that clarifies my position, but if not, I’ll happily let you have the last word.

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    1. I certainly respect your position. With public figures, however, there is usually a lot of talk and not much silence. And I chose to join the talkers — and be honest about how I felt — for the reasons stated in the piece and in response to other comments. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. There is a profound difference between taking a position on the law as an advocate for a particular client (Nixon, Ford) and having a position on the law when acting as a Judge/Justice. This is one of the reasons judges can’t decide cases for former clients. Your confusion on that point alone disqualifies you from commenting on any Judge/Justice’s career, let alone someone like Antonin Scalia.

    Perhaps if your essay was titled: “On the Death of Someone with Whom You Disagree.”

    Disagreement does not require disrespect. The deep personal friendship between Ginsberg and Scalia should have given you a clue.

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    1. I’m not confused about the difference between acting for a client (if we’re calling the United States a client and saying that a government job carries no additional moral responsibility to act in the general interest than working for GE, for instance) and hearing cases. I see Scalia’s behavior when advising Nixon and Ford as revelatory of Scalia’s character (during a period, for instance, when several other officials such as Bill Ruckelshaus resigned rather than do a criminal President’s bidding) and consistent with his character on the bench. I also see the positions he took during that period as consistent with his later rulings. I disagree with most of those positions; I also disrespect his character, but chose to be more polite about the latter than perhaps I should have. And, of course, there’s much more I could have said in a negative vein, but didn’t. As to Ginsburg, whose friendship I did cite, she was almost alone on the Court in her affection and admiration for Scalia, whose behavior alienated most of the other Justices. Which should give you, Gus, a clue. But thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate your thoughts.

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  12. Have you seen what Stephen Colbert had to say about him?

    And he’s right. People actually have been tracking the laughter in the oral arguments before the SCOTUS:

    “Out of six Supreme Court terms spanning 2004 to 2016, Scalia produced about 40 percent of all the laughter transcribed in oral arguments. That’s more than any other justice overall and more than any other justice every term.

    We rate Colbert’s claim True.” – http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2016/feb/17/stephen-colbert/colbert-scalia-told-more-jokes-and-got-more-laughs/

    So there is that…..

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  13. Too bad you think the Constitution should be modified by the courts to suit your sensibilities, rather than by the citizens and their elected representatives in legislatures. Follow that thinking to its logical end and you have a country ruled by courts and judges–very often political appointees–not by the citizens and their elected representatives. It becomes another oligarchy where the oligarchs are the judges. So much for your version of the “living Constitution.”

    The founders of the Constitution were bright people whose ideas of governance were extremely liberal. They believed that everyday people know best what kinds of laws to make for themselves as long as they don’t violate some essential principles that protect everyone else’s rights, not just the rights of a ruling class or a majority. They wrote those principles into the Constitution and, recognizing their own intellectual limits, also wrote a process to modify and change the Constitution by the voice of the people through their elected representatives. That’s the real Living Constitution; the one that is modified by the people, not the courts, according to the rules already written.

    It should be obvious to anyone who has been alive for a while that people are often corrupted by power. The founders knew that, over time, governments begin to cater more to the wishes of the ambitious ruling class and their friends (in government, business, wherever) than to regular citizens who are content to live their lives and be left alone. That’s why they did their best to limit the power of the federal government and its branches. They did this by creating a system of checks and balances in the federal government, writing limits to the federal government’s power, and passing power back to the states and local governments.

    The checks and balances in the federal government are designed to make it difficult for anyone to usurp power, which is also supposed to make it difficult for legislation to be passed if it isn’t agreed to by a majority of elected legislators, the executive, AND doesn’t violate the Constitution. A federal Congress and President that gets very little done because of disagreements is actually functioning as intended. You may not like it, but it’s vastly better than a government ruled by usurpers, as history has unequivocally demonstrated.

    The founders recognized that local government, closer to the needs of the people and more responsive to them, should supersede the authority of a more rigid, central, overarching federal government, as long as it behaved according to the principles of the Constitution. That’s why all power that was not explicitly granted to the branches of the federal government and written in the Constitution goes to the states, as written in the Tenth Amendment:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    Unlike the judges you respect for their judicial activism, Justice Scalia stuck with the original, and brilliant, intent of the Constitution. Legislators elected by the people make laws, the executive (also elected) enforces laws, the court decides cases according to the law and also decides when a law violates the Constitution. Scalia’s principled rulings assured that the rule of law and the voice of the people is still essential to our form of government, unlike his activist peers on the Court who invent new “rights” that were never in the Constitution; rights that, according to the Constitution, are to be decided by states (“powers not delegated…reserved to the States…or to the people”).

    FYI, if you don’t like a law, for example Florida election law circa 2000, you can do something about it. Lobby for it to be changed (if you live in Florida). Meanwhile, the law is still in effect until it is changed or is discovered to be in violation of the Constitution. To have judges arbitrarily change laws that are otherwise constitutional violates the fundamental right of the people to self-determination.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure which country you live in, brother, but we currently do reside in an oligarchy … brought to us (at least in part) by the pretend strict-constructionists on the Supreme Court (which included Scalia) who voted for Citizens United and who populate the lower courts.

      Most of them could be described as constructionists by convenience and radical conservative activists. I almost wish you were right … and there was such a thing as a real strict constructionist … because then we could blame the Founding Fathers instead of having to blame ourselves for being asleep at the voting booth while our democratic republic got bought and sold to the highest 1% bidders.

      And good luck to us getting our country back.

      Thank you, stinkerp, for your long and well-supported comment. I think we’re starting pretty far apart on this one, so I’ll limit my comments to this and give you both the first and last words.

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      1. I won’t discuss the ‘pretend’ constructionist jurisprudence on the bench. My thoughts on the oligarchy: Yes, our governmental has been leaning in an oligarchical direction for at least 50 years. But, it is not too late to vote members of that oligarchy out-or not vote them in. We have been governed by people who have been born and bred and groomed for political office and that I feel is what we need to rid ourselves of.

        We don’t need another Bush because another Bush was there or because his father was elected. We only need another Bush if that Bush is the best candidate for the job-in the minds of the electorate. We no longer need another Clinton for the same reason and we should only accept another Clinton if that Clinton is deemed most qualified to do the job that WE ask.

        The practice of electing by name recognition is political inbreeding and creates an incest; the politicians are not the same, but with their heirs, similarities in aides thought, support system creates a political dynasty and the United States established their own colony to ESCAPE just this, amongst other reasons.

        This election cycle, as in every election cycle, we have the opportunity not to elect people because of family names; ONLY if they are likely to do a good job at what we are electing then for. We have that opportunity, that responsibility.

        We do have an opportunity to interpret, enforce our Constitution and the ability to amend it according to the amendment process; however, too many people abdicate that responsibilities when they don’t vote.

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      2. Thank you for allowing a reply. The 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC was in fact a repudiation of the “mainstream” media oligarchy that has had so much influence on federal elections.

        The members of the media in the U.S. are overwhelmingly liberal (big surprise). A survey of Washington correspondents showed that 93% voted for the Democratic candidate in the prior Presidential election, where most Americans split pretty evenly between the Democratic and Republican candidate. Surveys of journalists’ political affiliations show that only a minority affiliate with a specific political party, supposedly showing political balance or neutrality, but in fact they VOTE overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. There’s nothing wrong with that but it indicates a significant institutional bias in favor of Democrats. That means that Democratic candidates generally get more favorable coverage from the media versus their Republican opponents. That’s essentially free advertising for Democratic candidates, and a massive amount of it, that can only be (weakly) countered by a lot of spending on political ads by Republicans.

        Issues in the media are most often framed by the Democrat or liberal narrative because that’s the way the journalists who report the stories lean. A couple examples:

        1. When Republicans in Congress push for restricting the yearly growth of the federal budget from its peacetime average of around 6.5% a year, far outpacing inflation, to something like 4% a year (still more than inflation), the media frames the argument as “drastic” or “draconian” budget cuts when in fact the budget is still growing, just not as fast. (BTW, I wish my retirement account averaged 6.5% yearly growth. I’d be rich.)

        2. When President G.W. Bush expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research, which had essentially been stopped entirely in 1995 by Congress and President Clinton, the media framed it as Bush “restricting” stem cell research because Democrats in Congress wanted it expanded even more. In reality, what Bush did was expand, not restrict funding.

        The decision in Citizens United v. FEC essentially affirmed the First Amendment right of Americans to engage in free political speech, which is exactly the type of “speech” that was intended to be protected by the First Amendment. Where before it was curtailed by FEC rules, citizens could now donate money to non-profit political organizations to air ads in favor of the candidate of their choice. Corporations and labor unions can too. The majority opinion argued “that to grant First Amendment protections to media corporations but not others presented a host of problems, and so all corporations should be equally protected from expenditure restrictions.”

        Despite the hue and cry by Democrats about corporations having a greater and unfair influence through advertising, the reality is that corporate spending heavily favors Democrat candidates. But now Republicans can counter that with political ads from non-profit corporations.

        Freedom is messy, but it’s way better than the alternative.

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      3. Thanks for the long response, stinkerp, although it’s clear that we are so far apart in our perception of the country we live in (let alone how it got that way) that further debate is probably going to be a waste of time for us both. I’ll see you a Citizens Uniteds and raise you two Koch Brothers! And welcome you to the former republic now oligarchy called the United States.

        I would also recommend a couple of books to you, which might give you some food for thought. One is called Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (from 2010) by Kim Phillips-Fein. And the other is the new book by Jane Mayer called Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. If you read one or both books, let me know. And you can post what you think about them here.

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  14. The fact that Scalia urged David Axelrod to “push” Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court and he was “best buddies” with Ginsburg is a revealing counterpoint to your post.

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    1. I mentioned the Ginsburg friendship in my post and also indicated that I had no doubt that Scalia possessed other good personal qualities, but that my focus was on his career. It’s interesting that you brought up the Kagan nomination, because his recommendation to Axelrod occurred during a period when Congress had not completely abdicated its Constitutional responsibilities and turned itself into the poster child for anal retention. Scalia then assumed a Congress that would approve a qualified liberal candidate and he wanted one, Kagan, with whom he felt personally compatible. He could make no such assumption now. And more’s the pity. For all of us.

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  15. Fascinating stuff. I’m British so it’s difficult to comment on Scalia specifically, but I appreciate the need to keep a measured approach.
    I saw a rabid comment underneath an obituary for Harper Lee earlier today. I think there’s always people willing to take a dig no matter who has passed.

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  16. Just one note to an otherwise excellent piece: blame for 2007 global financial meltdown can be laid at the feet of Bill Clinton who passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (2000).

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    1. A number of factors led to the 2007 global financial meltdown, we will probably never know the full story, and I certainly wouldn’t pretend to be an expert. But I do believe you’re right in saying that the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was a major mistake! I always considered bill C to be half a Republican and I believe guys like Robert Rubin and fed chief Greenspan were more than a little surprised at how receptive Clinton was to some of their advice.

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  17. I am not a student of history, but do remember Scalia and Gee Dubya holding closed door meetings with oil execs, perhaps including hunting expeditions. I also remember Scalia’s response to the media, when asked about the content of what was said. Scalia’s response? “None of your business.”

    Not even worried about appearing to maintain an appearance of neutrality.

    Sorry, if I don’t seem willing to pull out the pedestal either.

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