By: Jonathan Hogue ~Opinions & Editorial Editor~
There is no doubt that Justice Antonin Scalia was a powerhouse figure on the U.S. Supreme Court. Since his appointment by President Reagan at the height of the Republican Revolution, Scalia was a conservative scholar whose legal prose shaped a quarter century of the Court’s rulings.
Since his death, political ideologues on both sides of the aisle are using his vacancy as a reason to rewrite and revise recent history, but Americans need to know the man behind the robe and his impact on the judicial branch.
Though I was not a proponent of his opinions, Justice Scalia was a brilliant mind. His prose and ability to convey conservative principles through Court opinions made him the leading conservative on the bench. Few argue that his scholarship should be knocked, but Scalia’s opinions did have an adverse and negative impact on civic life.
Throughout his term on the Court, Scalia persuaded and ruled from a hard-lined Conservative position. Whether the issue was campaign finance reform, samesex marriage or torture rulings, Scalia’s words never failed to garner criticism. His hard-lined interpretation of the Constitution and at times ignorant views on Americans who differed from himself served as nothing more than a divisive lightening rod in the Court.
In a 2015 case regarding affirmative action, Justice Scalia argued Black students don’t perform as well in high-performing colleges because of education inequality in K-12 schools, but claimed universities should not encourage diversity on their campuses because this inequity is better suited for students of color.
“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African- Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well.”
On gay rights, Scalia argued homosexuality was an evil similar to murder or cruelty to animals which the Court should not support.
“Of course, it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible — murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals — and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct.”
These instances represent a fraction of Scalia’s skewed and often close-minded approach to governance.
Look, no Supreme Court Justice is perfect, but there is a degree in which one can harm the Court and the people he serves. Justice Scalia’s vacancy will be hard to fill, but Americans need to remember the divisiveness and hostility his actions brought to the Court.
As the nation moves forward, people need to remember a few things.
First, Republicans on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress should not impede Obama from appointing a replacement during his final year. President Obama has a constitutional obligation to replace Justice Scalia and support the judicial branch. If conservatives want to honor Scalia, a man who was a constitutional purist, they should let President Obama fulfill his duties.
Second, people need to think about where the country is going and what type of Court we want to represent the people. I hate the way politicians and pundits label conservative and liberal judges. A good judge can rule from both perspectives and help the court succeed. However, the U.S. is not the same nation as it was in 1986.
When Justice Scalia was sworn in, President Reagan refused to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic and the institutionalized discrimination LGBTQ Americans faced from his government. Now, Americans in growing numbers recognize the fact that sexuality is not a barrier to liberty.
We understand viewpoints must take on a nuanced approach. A proper judge can’t effectively rule if he or she takes an entrenched view on issues like affirmative action, abortion cases or the death penalty. Obama and the U.S. Senate need to support a justice who realizes that the Court has an obligation to use the law to protect every American, whether he or she is in the majority or the minority on a case.
Lastly, and this is a personal view, the Constitution is not perfect. The U.S. Constitution is a political document written by brilliant but also incredibly bigoted men. For a justice to ignore the Constitution’s flaws is dangerous to the Court and the republic. We need a justice who understands the Constitution’s strengths and flaws to be a guardian of civic virtue.
My thoughts and prayers are with Justice Scalia’s family. The nation and I salute his service and appreciate his dedication to the Court. However, we should not forget his faults, and we should ensure that his successor represents the idealistic aims of our country.