The conservative world was shattered this week by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
He was a brilliant man and an unrivaled defender of constitutional 'originalism', an interpretation liberal-progressives consider extreme.*
"What is a moderate interpretation of the text?" Scalia once asked. "Halfway between what it really means and what you'd like it to mean?"
Scalia was a happy and infinitely witty debater. "I love to argue. I've always loved to argue,” he told CBS News. "And I love to point out the weaknesses of the opposing arguments. It may well be that I'm something of a shin kicker. It may well be that I'm something of a contrarian."
Yet his arguments were on point and challenging, and it gained him friends even among his staunchest philosophical opponents.
Justice Scalia’s opinions from the bench were clear to ordinary laymen. As with his spoken word, his writing followed a straight path of logic that others could follow.
He “was famous for his dissenting opinions,” write Jacob Gershman and Joe Palazzolo at the Wall Street Journal, "where his judicial philosophy and caustic wit fused together to produce some of his most enduring lines." This is one example they cite:
Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) Justice Scalia was arguably at his most sarcastic and sharpest when he railed against the reasoning of the majority opinion that declared same-sex marriage a fundamental right under the Constitution.
The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic…(Scalia continues the thought in a footnote.) If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: "The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity," I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.
Justice Scalia’s seat on the high court will be filled at some point in the future, after great and bitter political upheaval.
But Antonin Scalia will never be replaced. He was one of a kind. He is irreplaceable.
*For more on the meaning of originalism, see Michael McConnell’s WSJ article, Antonin Scalia was Democracy’s Legal Champion.