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