February 16, 2016

A young lawyer's tribute to Justice Antonin Scalia

By A young lawyer's tribute to Justice Antonin Scalia

scalia_002_12660027-edit_slide-39fc295b3ac0bb3f89a8e9409d55422cb7837cb3-s900-c85Justice Antonin Scalia was one of the most influential Justices in Supreme Court history. During his 30-year stint on the Court, Justice Scalia was a giant figure in the conservative legal movement. Indeed, his ideas have profoundly influenced my legal education and professional development.

Justice Scalia’s lively opinions made conservative legal ideas accessible to law students and young attorneys like myself. Future law students will read his opinions and be influenced by some of the most powerful conservative arguments. Justice Scalia was an artist—as one of the greatest writers in the Court’s history, Justice Scalia guided readers through difficult cases in a concise and powerful manner. His unique metaphors made his opinions a joy to read. Even when I disagreed with a Justice Scalia majority opinion or dissent, I could be sure that I read some of the strongest arguments for that position.

Furthermore, Justice Scalia made originalism and textualism legitimate theories of interpretation. Originalism is a theory of constitutional interpretation that posits that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the public meaning of the particular constitutional provision when it was adopted. For instance, Justice Scalia used an originalist interpretation when he authored the landmark decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that there is a fundamental right under the Second Amendment to own a firearm for lawful purposes. Textualism is a theory of statutory interpretation where judges focus on the plain text of legislation. Because of Justice Scalia, judges almost always begin statutory interpretation cases by looking at the plain text of legislation. Before Justice Scalia joined the High Court, judges often focused on the policy reasons behind legislation and relegated the statute’s text to a footnote. Commentators agree that Justice Scalia brought legitimacy to originalism and textualism.

Even if one disagrees with Justice Scalia’s philosophy, one can appreciate his cordial nature and commitment to his friendships. Justice Scalia was extremely close friends with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, despite their deep philosophical differences. They often attended operas and spent New Year’s Eve together. I hope that one of Justice Scalia’s lasting legacies is that people can have deep friendships with people they strongly disagree with. I have tried to emulate Justice Scalia by not letting philosophical differences get in the way of my friendships.

As a recent law school graduate, Justice Scalia has been one of the most profound influences on my intellectual development. Through his witty and powerful opinions, Justice Scalia will continue to influence future lawyers for many generations.

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