Antonin Scalia, one of the nine current members of the United States Supreme Court of the United States, died on Saturday, February 13, 2016. He was 79 years old.
Scalia was born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, New Jersey. Both of his parents were teachers, and he was their only child. When he was six years old, his family moved to Queens, a borough of New York City. He did well in school and liked to play street hockey on roller skates. After finishing high school, he attended Georgetown University and graduated first in his class. Scalia next went to Harvard Law School and became a lawyer. He married Maureen McCarthy, a student at Radcliffe College when they met. Together they had nine children. Eventually, Scalia became a grandfather to more than 25 grandchildren.
After working as a lawyer for several years, Scalia became a law school professor. Later, he worked for the federal government as a lawyer for several years before returning to teaching. In 1982, he became a federal appeals court judge. President Ronald Reagan nominated him to become a member of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986. The Senate confirmed his nomination unanimously with no one voting against his appointment. Supreme Court justices serve for life, unless they choose to retire. At the time of his death, Scalia was the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court.
While on the Supreme Court, Scalia became known for his “originalist” view of the United States Constitution. When ruling on cases, he thought about what the writers of the Constitution meant when they wrote the Constitution. He wanted to follow what they originally intended. He did not believe that the meaning of the Constitution could ever change, even as society changed. Because of his traditional views, he was considered one of the more conservative members of the Court.
Scalia also was known as someone who would voice his opinion often. He asked many questions of lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court and sometimes argued with them. Scalia used his sense of humor in his written Supreme Court decisions and when speaking. One study of the Supreme Court found that he was the funniest justice, causing laughter in the courtroom more than any of the others. He also made strong arguments in his writing. As retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “His gifts of wisdom, wit, and wordsmithing were unparalleled.”
Outside of the courtroom, Justice Scalia enjoyed hunting and listening to opera music. In fact, Scalia recently became the subject of an opera, called Scalia/Ginsburg. It was first performed at a cultural festival in Castleton, Virginia, in July 2015. The opera is about Justice Scalia’s friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a fellow opera lover and Supreme Court justice. Justices Scalia and Ginsburg often held opposing views of cases, but they were, as she said, “best buddies.”
Justice Scalia’s passing leaves only eight members on the Supreme Court instead of the usual nine. According to the rules in the Constitution, the President is required to nominate a replacement. The Senate must then vote on whether or not to confirm the nominee. The Supreme Court will be a different place without Scalia’s strong opinions and sense of humor.