Antonin Scalia

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Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia (born March 11, 1936) has been a US Supreme Court Associate Justice since 1986. He is widely considered the leading conservative voice on the Court, and one of the most forceful modern advocates of originalism.


Early life

Antonin Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey. His mother, Catherine, was born in the United States; his father, S. Eugenee, in Italy. His father was a Professor of Romance Languages. When Scalia was five years old, his family moved to Queens, New York City, New York. His father was working at Brooklyn College.

He attended high school at Xavier High School, a Catholic and Jesuit school in Manhattan. He graduated first in his class and summa cum laude with an A.B. from Georgetown University in 1957. While at Georgetown he also studied at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He went on to study law at Harvard Law School (where he was an editor for the Harvard Law Review). He graduated from there in 1960, the following year he was a Sheldon Fellow of Harvard University. The fellowship allowed him to travel throughout Europe during 1960-1961.

He married Maureen McCarthy on September 10, 1960. She was an English major at Radcliffe College. Her father was a physician in Massachusetts. They have nine children – Ann Forrest, Eugene, John Francis, Catherine Elisabeth, Mary Clare, Paul David (now a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington), Matthew, Christopher James, and Margaret Jane.

Scalia is sometimes referred to by the nickname "Nino" by both admirers and detractors.

Legal Career

He began his legal career at Jones, Day, Cockley, and Reavis in Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked from 1961-1967. He became a Professor of Law at the University of Virginia in 1967. In 1971, he went into government service. He began as the general counsel, for the Office of Telecommunications Policy, under President Richard Nixon. His major accomplishment here was to formulate a policy for the growth of cable television. From 1972 to 1974, he was the chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States. He served from 1974 to 1977 in the Ford administration as the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

He returned to academia in 1977 to the University of Chicago Law School from 1977-1982, and a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and Stanford University. He was chairman of the American Bar Association's Section of Administrative Law, 1981-1982, and its Conference of Section Chairmen, 1982-1983.

He was appointed Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982. Then, in 1986 President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Scalia was approved by the Senate in a vote of 98-0 and he took his seat on September 26, 1986. He is the first Italian-American Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Legal philosophy & approach

Scalia is considered the Court's leading proponent of originalism, and also of a what he considers a "literal" interpretation of the text of the Constitution of the United States and statutory laws that come before the Court. In the latter regard, his "textualist" approach has been compared with that of the late Justice Hugo Black, although Black tends to be regarded as liberal whereas Scalia is almost always described as conservative.

However, Scalia's generally strict approach sometimes brings what may be characterized as "liberal" results. He notably joined the majority without qualification in Texas v. Johnson, which ruled that flag burning was protected speech. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Scalia's dissent was the most restrictive upon the government's power to deal with U.S. citizens alleged to be "unlawful combatants", arguing that legally there was no basis for such a designation and that ordinary criminal prosecution was effectively the only option. In Ring v. Arizona, Scalia re-affirmed his view that only a Jury - and not a Judge - could impose the death penalty, writing: "We cannot preserve our veneration for the protection of the jury in criminal cases if we render ourselves callous to the need for that protection by regularly imposing the death penalty without it". Leading on directly and logically from Ring, Scalia wrote for the majority in Blakely v. Washington, which caused shockwaves throughout both state and federal criminal sentencing systems by ruling that sentences could not be increased because of facts determined by judges rather than juries.

Though Scalia often relies upon tradition and history to discern what the language in laws or constitutional provisions was understood to mean at the time of their passage, he considers legislative history to be an unreliable tool when determining Congressional intent. This position often puts him at odds with Justice Breyer, who is perhaps the Court's most steadfast proponent of the value of legislative history in legal interpretation.

Beyond his legal philosophy, Scalia is well known for his "prickly" personality, and direct lively questioning during arguments before the court; one litigator who argued before the Court compared Scalia's questioning style to "a big cat batting around a ball of yarn" (Source ( In his concurring and dissenting opinions, he frequently takes what may be characterized as sarcastic and biting "potshots" at the other justices, quoting them from past opinions to point out what he considers inconsistencies in their reasoning, or accusing them of inventing legal standards out of thin air.

Scalia, the Court and the electronic media

Jealously protective of his privacy, Scalia formerly barred (or at least, severely restricted) the electronic media from recording his public speaking engagements, citing his "First Amendment right not to speak on the radio or television when I do not wish to do so".

In April 2004, at a Scalia speech in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, U.S. Marshal Melanie Rube, acting as security detail, confiscated the audio tape of a reporter covering the event. After some controversy over the incident, Scalia apologized and stated he did not order the Marshal to do so. He has since amended his policy so that print reporters are now allowed to record his speeches to "promote accurate reporting", and recently, he appears to be relaxing the electronic media stricture also; at least two of his recent speeches have been covered by CSPAN.

Scalia has also opposed the introduction of live audio and television broadcasts of Supreme Court oral arguments; in a Spring 2005 roundtable discussion with Justices O'Connor and Breyer at the National Archives - also carried by CSPAN - he noted that he would approve of both audio and televisual broadcasts if he could be confident that it would go out and be watched gavel-to-gavel. He characterized his objections as relating to the possibility for sensationalism, excerptation and the fostering of an inaccurate picture of the Supreme Court's operation.

External links


Further reading

  • Ring, Kevin A., Scalia Dissents : Writings of the Supreme Court's Wittiest, Most Outspoken Justice (Regnery Publishing, Inc., November 25, 2004); ISBN 0895260530
  • Tushnet, Mark, A Court Divided (W. W. Norton & Company, January 30, 2005); ISBN 0393058689


Preceded by:
William Hubbs Rehnquist
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
September 26, 1986 – present (a)
Succeeded by:

Template:Succession footnote Template:End box


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