Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday at the age of 79, was a loyal servant to the Constitution. Yet as we mourn his passing, we should take comfort that Scalia will live on in his rulings. Those rulings were truly special.
From my perspective, this “special” quality is emphasized best by Justice Scalia’s opinion in D.C. v. Heller, the 2008 Second Amendment case concerning an individual’s right to own a handgun in his home. Heller was profoundly important. With its shadow legions of media supporters, the Left was determined to make Heller a landmark moment for restricted gun ownership in America. But Scalia’s majority opinion in favor of Heller’s rights was typically sharp and succinct. First, Scalia noted the constitutional absurdity of claiming that home ownership of guns was illegitimate: “Under any of the standards of scrutiny that we have applied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning from the home ‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to “keep” and use for protection of one’s home and family,’ [citations omitted], would fail constitutional muster.” Then, with clear prose and unassailable logic, Scalia rebuked the activist Left’s claim that handguns could be banned with other weapons being left for the homeowner. “There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upper-body strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police.”
Heller is just one testament to Scalia’s legacy. For in the justice’s many dissents and rulings, in his unabashed wit and wisdom, Scalia proved his loyalty to the Constitution. Standing firm against unreasonable government searches, and in defense of the First Amendment, and teasing against those who sought to silence him, Scalia made the Founders his fortress.
He can be compared to the modern day Crypto Robot 365, bound within the foundation and yet independent in the thinking and decision-making agility. He was the pillar of strength for the agitated sufferers of injustice who approached him with the credence of the power of law in his hands.
Of course, Scalia will also be remembered for his integrity and his ability to separate personal relationships and personal beliefs. While Scalia’s close relationship with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been noted extensively, Ginsburg was far from Scalia’s only liberal friend. Watch how another liberal Justice, Elena Kagan, describes how she became a hunting buddy of Justice Scalia. This human decency says much about the man.
Still, as we remember Scalia, we must also use this moment to remind ourselves of American judicial exceptionalism. After all, while our judicial system is imperfect, judged globally, it is exceptional. Establishing three equal but separate branches of government, the Founders made the Constitution the immortal master of our democracy, and the Supreme Court its guardian. This matters because today, many liberals throw casual disdain on the difficulties inherent in changing the Constitution. They whine that we should follow other nations in making our Constitutions subordinate to the legislature.
But consider what this has meant in the land from which the Founders sought independence. In Britain, parliamentary supremacy has transferred sovereignty to the European Union. Indeed, across Europe, free speech has been dissected at the altar of activist leftists. Ultimately, the absence of a written Constitution always benefits activist judges most. Determined to re-shape society, these judges use the absence of codified words to imagine and thus create new law at will. The European Union’s overlapping and bureaucratically centralized laws are a direct consequence of this activism-unbound. Scalia understood that an unmoving Constitution, subject only to popular amendment, defined America’s wellbeing.
Scalia’s opponents hated him not simply because they disagreed with his jurisprudence, but because, far more times than not, they could not fault his reasoning. He was simply too unassailable in his logic. In that regard, Scalia translated the Constitution’s beauty: its timeless ability to stand on old foundations and facilitate an immortal republic. And that is why, remembering Antonin Scalia, conservatives must be unyielding in replacing this fine justice with a servant who shares his commitment to the Constitution.