Scalia’s Legacy of Law and Life

ScaliaSmilingSquareThere were plenty of shameful celebrations when Justice Scalia died.

Brietbart quoted some of them: The sports editor at “Vocativ,” Tomás Ríos, tweeted out that “Scalia was a monster and no one’s job entitles them to respect.” Charles Manning, Senior Style Editor for Cosmopolitan.com, tweeted: “The devil is back in Hell! Yay!”

HotAir.com quoted a Foreign Policy magazine opinion piece that said, “Prepare yourself for pious proclamations of sorrow. …. The global legal and judicial communities, however, will mostly be indulging in joyful private choruses of ‘Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.’ Or maybe not so private.”

This is sad and wrong. Not only is Scalia due respect for being a human being — there is much to praise in his record for anyone who cares to look objectively at what he did and who he was.

Not an Ideologue

If you read anyone who treats Scalia as an ideological conservative scoring points for his “side” of a power struggle, you can be sure you are reading someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.

At Slate magazine, Mark Joseph Stern said that many “progressive” commentators “overlook the remarkable nuance and complexity of his jurisprudence,” and listed a number of Scalia cases to make his point:

“Scalia cast a decisive vote in the most important free speech case of the 1980s, Texas v. Johnson, which held that flag burning qualified as constitutionally protected expression. He wrote the landmark majority opinion in 2011’s Brown v. EMA, a double victory for First Amendment advocates that protected both depictions of violence and minors’ rights. And he dissented in Maryland v. King, arguing that the Fourth Amendment forbids law enforcement from collecting DNA from arrestees. (His fierce dissent sounds like it could have sprung from the pen of Edward Snowden.)”

He also admired Scalia’s personal combative style, saying, “Scalia was the justice you either loved or hated, relentlessly opinionated, representative of everything that was right or wrong with the Supreme Court. He was witty, unpredictable, caustic, indignant, and brilliant.”

Scalia’s incisive thinking has been recognized again and again. For one, there is the spate of “Scalia the prophet” articles.

“Scalia predicts the future, once again, in gay-marriage dissent,” wrote Debra Cassens Wiss in the American Bar Association Journal. She pointed out that when the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws, Scalia called it “a massive disruption of the current social order” and warned that, after that decision, “what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples?”

None, it turned out.

He did the same thing in his dissent when the court overturned parts of the the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013. Sam Baker in the National Journal quoted Scalia’s dissent:

“By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency,” wrote Scalia, “the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”

A year later, Baker pointed out:

“State bans on same-sex marriage are falling like dominoes in the courts — just as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia predicted.” Adding that Scalia “probably hates it. But he did call it”

Scalia’s America

But I think the best reason to celebrate Scalia’s life and mourn his death were his vision of America, and how he lived that vision. In a 2010 commencement address at Langley High School, where his granddaughter was graduating, Scalia humorously debunked many commencement address clichés. One was the phrase, “The United States is the greatest country in the world.”

“Now, I do not intend to contradict that platitude, because I think it to be true,” he said. “What I would like to explore with you a little bit, what it is we mean when we say we believe it.”

After eliminating several possible meanings — neither beauty, power, nor freedom make us great — he settled on virtue:

“Not only is it not true that we are the greatest because we are the freest, rather precisely the opposite is true,” he said. “We are the freest because we have those qualities that make us the greatest. For freedom is a luxury that can be afforded only by the good society. When civic virtue diminishes, freedom will inevitably diminish as well.”

Since civic virtue is best provided by religion — as George Washington put it, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports” — then that’s another way of saying that our religious heritage is what makes America great.

Justice Scalia was himself an exemplar of that greatness. I have known many fellow parishioners of his who attest to him as a good Catholic and a good dad (… of nine kids. “Being a devout Catholic means you have children when God gives them to you,” he told his biographer) — and I have met his son, who is a wonderful priest.

But a tribute by Jeffery Tucker, Justice Scalia’s Great Heart, is higher praise than I have heard elsewhere. “Now that he is gone from this earth, I can tell a story I’ve held inside for many years, a scene that touched me deeply and profoundly,” he wrote.

He recalled one morning when he saw Justice Scalia in a pew at a D.C. church being approached by a disturbed-looking woman who had sores all over her face and hands:

“He took her hands, though they were full of sores. She leaned in to say something, and she began to cry. He held her face next to his, and she talked beneath her tears that were now streaming down his suit. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t try to get away. He just held her while she spoke. This lasted for perhaps more than 5 minutes. He closed his eyes while she spoke, gripping her back with his hand. He didn’t recoil. He stood there with conviction. And love.”

In the end, he shared some words with her and gave her some money.

“I stood there in awe,” wrote Tucker. “What I saw that day was a humble man, a compassionate man, a man who believed in the power of personal contact. This was the action of a man of true principle and character. In that action, he sought no credit and sought no attention. He was merely doing a humane and beautiful thing.”

At the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College, we are calling for prayers for Scalia, and also for the Little Sisters of the Poor, in the wake of his death. God bless Justice Scalia, and God grant us the America he argued and worked for so hard all his life.

This first appeared at Catholic Vote.

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.