Civil and Human Rights

Pen in hand, Scalia leaves his mark

 

Antonin Scalia is a feisty justice who has cut a wide swath through the law but rarely has written the biggest Supreme Court decisions. His no-compromise style often leads him to lose the votes of colleagues needed to keep a majority in contentious cases.

Yet Thursday he authored one of the most significant rulings ever in a case that was tailor-made for his personal quest: trying to discern the original intention of the men who drafted the Constitution.

Thomas Goldstein, a lawyer who is a regular advocate before the justices, says, “This case really is his legacy. Not only is the issue fantastically important, but the way the case was decided — on the basis of history and the original understanding — is his great contribution to the law. That he could keep five votes with so many issues in play shows how far he has moved the law.”

Scalia’s prominent role in the dispute over a Washington, D.C., gun ban occurs as he is fashioning a higher profile through interviews, including on 60 Minutes, for his new book about effective legal arguments.

“I have decided to try to do more writing, apart from just writing court opinions,” he told USA TODAY. “And I have decided to be less stingy with my public appearances, not just for (promoting) the book but generally to get the message out, about the interpretive principles that I believe very strongly in.”
Scalia never lacks for attention. He has an “outsized influence,” Washington lawyer Douglas Kendall remarked this month, as he launched a group, the Constitutional Accountability Center, to counter conservatives who have shaped the terms of constitutional debate.

Scalia has been the most vocal justice in arguing that judges should not impose their views of what’s best for society in cases. He narrowly construes individual rights. He dissented this term when the majority allowed workers to sue when they face retaliation after filing claims of race or age bias. He also delivered a fierce dissent from the bench this month when the court gave Guantanamo detainees a constitutional right to challenge their imprisonment.

Scalia, 72, has been on the court for nearly 22 years and hopes to serve much longer. As he recently accepted an award at Georgetown law school, he joked that it was his second “lifetime achievement” honor this year, and he wondered whether he should feel as if he were on his way out. “It’s usually given to an over-the-hill Hollywood actor,” he explained in an interview later. “You know, he stumbles up to the stage for a lifetime achievement award. I hope I haven’t reached that stage yet.”

He received a wooden duck, a fun reminder of the 2004 controversy over his duck hunting with Vice President Cheney when a case that involved Cheney was at the court.

Scalia joked that if he and Cheney hadn’t been hunting ducks, he might not have come in for such derision.

Said Scalia: “Nothing is as funny as a duck.”

 

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