Fundamentally Scalia: Remembering a Controversial Justice

Weeks ago, the United States was shocked to learn about the passing of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  Despised by some, loved by many, Scalia never shied away from controversy. While I personally disagree with what he said on most issues, I and many Americans respected Justice Scalia for his dedication to the institution he served, and the eloquence he brought to Court decisions.

What many people don’t know about the former justice is that Cleveland held a special place in Justice Scalia’s life. He started his long legal career in Cleveland, working for world renowned firm Jones Day in the real estate and anti-trust division.  He came to Cleveland, started his practice in 1961, and focused on homes and protecting people. He did not focus on limiting Presidential Power; he did not focus on the legality of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new emissions standards or the right to marry. He was just a young lawyer getting experience, and from the beginning of his career in Cleveland he stood by his personal views, and used his superior intellect to engage in debates with friends and colleges.

His loyalty to the original jurisprudence cause (a legal view that the Constitution should be interpreted as the founders/authors would have at the time the document was written rather than viewing the constitution as a living document that changes with the times) drew praise from conservatives throughout the legal world; however, even I agree that the consistency in his opinions and dissents ensured that his impact on the Court was enormous. He was first and foremost a Constitutionalist who had a commitment to limiting the power of the government and ensuring the separation of power was fair. To implement his views into policy, he refused to compromise and build alliances, preferring to state his views of the law and what was right through his world famous dissents. His dissents made the opinions stronger and more concrete, and his opinions helped to make the law stronger and clearer.  Even his colleague, Liberal Justice Elena Kagan, the newest member of the Court, praised him by stating, “He is the justice who has had the most important impact over the years on how we think and talk about law.” These dissents forced justices to make argument based off of constitutional literature and precedent, and scolded conservative friends who ignored text and the original interpretation of the Constitution, which overall made the quality of the Court’s work better and the law clear.

He angered many people with his opinions, and personally caused me great frustration with his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges (the Supreme Court Case that held that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the Constitution) when it seemed that the Court could have voted either way. He famously wrote that he believed that Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided even when most would have voted the other way because the 14th amendment was not intended to remove school segregation.  Despite his often frustrating views, he gave opinions on former cases which showed that he voted for what he believed was best for the country. His opinions have forever shaped America, and he will continue to be known throughout this country as “a legal titian” who never lost his ability to articulate the fundamentalist doctrine that he championed for the past several decades.

Now, we as a country look past what Mr. Scalia did and the opinions he authored, and move toward what we think will be a long battle to fill his seat. It is sad that a country so rooted in law and justice will choose to politicize an institution that Mr. Scalia worked so hard to remove from the spotlight. My only hope is that the President and the Senate will be able to fulfil their constitutional mandate and ensure that the Supreme Court of the United States of America does not change from the foundation of American Jurisprudence to a political house full of political appointments.