Today in 1936: Antonin Scalia is born.

March 11, 2011

Today in Legal History75 years ago in Trenton, New Jersey, Antonin Gregory Scalia was born.

While many people have used many words to describe the controversial Supreme Court Justice, virtually all can agree to at least one: conservative.

This trait is manifested in practically every opinion and viewpoint Scalia has expressed throughout his tenure in public life.

Most prominently, perhaps, Scalia is known for being a strong originalist and textualist.

Textualism is a method of statutory interpretation that only uses the plain text of the statute, disregarding other influences such as legislative intent and policy questions.  Originalism, a logical extension of textualism, refers to an approach of constitutional interpretation that dictates the document and the words therein should be interpreted solely as what they meant when it was originally ratified.

Because of these beliefs, Scalia has been one of the strongest critics of substantive due process, a principle that interprets the Constitution as granting certain implicit rights.  The rule is responsible for the Fourteenth Amendment’s ability to force individual state laws to adhere to the Bill of Rights, as well as for guaranteeing a host of other rights not explicitly named in the Constitution.

Antonin ScaliaThese rights include the right to a fair trial, the right to be held innocent until proven guilty, the right to vote, the right to marry, and the right to procreate, to name a few.

Because of substantive due process, the Supreme Court has made many decisions over the years that Scalia is not happy about, a sentiment which he rarely keeps to himself.

And it is this need to express his opinions so passionately which has also distinguished Scalia.  Known for his caustic and scathing dissents, Scalia does not just attack the arguments his opponents use, but often uses such attacks as a vehicle to attack his opponents themselves.

A recent example of this can be found in Zuni Public School Dist. No. 89 v. Department of Educ.  In his dissent, Scalia accuses specific members of the majority of employing policy-driven statutory interpretation, and then immediately states his approach correctly relies on the statutory text.

The scathe doesn’t end there, of course.  In true Scalia form, the rest of his dissent (in truth, nearly all of his dissents) continues to carpet bomb his opponents’ arguments and their intelligence in making them, while fervently advancing his own view.

Nor is Scalia’s trademark lambasting restricted to the courtroom.  Rather, Scalia is often even sharper-tongued outside of his opinions.

In one 2006 example, Scalia called adherents to the “Living Constitution”, a viewpoint opposed to his own originalism, “idiots.”

Of course, it is this style, passion, and heavy-handedness that make him so popular.

Love him or hate him, Scalia has certainly made a huge impact on the Supreme Court and to modern conservative legal thought.

To learn more about Antonin Scalia, check out his bio on the Supreme Court’s website, or read any of his burning dissents on Westlaw.

Also check out Scalia’s book Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, available through West.