The invitation of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to speak at this year’s Boe Forum was predictably divisive. Since his appointment to the Court thirty years ago, Justice Scalia has gained a reputation as a conservative lion, unashamedly representing the sometimes unpopular views of the American right.
He has been credited with livening the face of the Supreme Court, contending his points aggressively and rambunctiously, taking no prisoners and pulling no punches in his tirades. He never hesitated to color his words, both oral and written, with a balance of wit, humor and brashness. His style and attitude made him a favorite in the media and the audiences lucky enough to witness him joust his opponents.
The brilliance of his work was in both craft and content. Described as the “intellectual anchor of the far-right”, Scalia built a body of work that has been an important part of the conservative revival of the past decade.
He was, nonetheless, respected across party lines. Since his death, leaders from both parties have lent their praise, and personal anecdotes about Scalia, fondly recalled by liberal pillars such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg and David Axelrod, have floated to the top of the headlines.
Describing himself as an “originalist,” Scalia’s rulings were rooted in his belief that the Constitution should be interpreted as the founding fathers had intended when they wrote it.
These framers, however, lived in a fundamentally different time.
What ruling would have Scalia’s philosophy led to if he was on the bench when cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court voted that racial segregation did not violate the rights of colored people, were being debated? Would the founding fathers, many of them slave owners themselves, have dissented from that decision, and others similar to it? It is unlikely.
Speculation aside, we need not delve into hypotheticals to see how Scalia’s votes have sometimes been, and many more times could have been, of great harm to minority communities. He opposed marriage equality strongly, arguing that if one does not reserve the right to be morally opposed to homosexuality, then one cannot be opposed to bestiality, pedophilia and murder.
In Lawrence v. Texas, he opposed the court’s decision to strike down a law that banned sodomy. In Romer v. Evans, he led the majority in preventing the state of Colorado from enacting laws that prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community.
He argued that there is no distinction between a person and a corporation and equated money to free speech in Citizens United v. FEC, opening the floodgates for corporations to pour money into auper PACs for candidates they support, a decision that has deeply corrupted the democratic process.
He described the Voting Rights Act as a “racial entitlement.” Most recently, he argued that affirmative action programs are detrimental to black students and the institutions they attend, controversially stating that blacks may fair better in “less-advanced” or “slower track” schools.
Scalia has had a profound influence on the legal and political landscape of America. His fellow justices, even those that he battled on a regular basis, will likely miss the vibrancy he brought to the court. The branches of this government will jointly mourn the loss of a giant.
The American democratic process is built on pillars like Scalia, challenging our notions and perspectives, forcing us to chisel and refine what we believe in the pursuit of higher truths.
His passing is a loss to this democracy. But there are those for whom he was an obstacle to justice, and they cannot be blamed for not joining in mourning him. For those who were casualties of his crusade, his death may mean that justice is finally on the horizon.
Luca Amayo is a freshman government and economics major from Nairobi, Kenya