Justice Antonin Scalia’s captivating brilliance and wit

Sharon Rossie

Every week, NPRI President Sharon Rossie writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.


Almost a week ago America lost a titan of American law with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Today, a flag-draped casket containing the body of the 79-year-old justice rested in the Supreme Court, as mourners, colleagues and thousands of average Americans paid their respect.

Controversial on many occasions, Scalia’s honesty was apparent as he forfeited political and populist concerns for a concentration on his work as a justice. In his dissents and opinions his writing was often terse and sharp —soliciting angered and fevered critiques from his ideological opponents. And yet, his integrity was such that even upon disagreeing with him, his detractors couldn’t help but recognize the impact he was making on American jurisprudence.    

Indeed, after his death, fellow justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — considered Scalia’s most entrenched ideological rival on the bench — made an undeniable observation about his ability to articulate a commanding defense of his opinion.

“He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit,” she wrote. “He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.”

She is quite right.

Scalia’s dissents, as well as his decisions, will forever remain a profound addition to the defense of the American justice system. His almost evangelical devotion to the Constitution’s original text was often articulated in such piercing terms, that even his detractors combed through his work with admiration.

In his own words, Scalia explained there is no such thing as a “moderate” constitutionalist.

“What is a moderate interpretation of the text?” he said. “Halfway between what it really means and what you'd like it to mean?”

Of course, this devotion to the Constitution’s original intent earned him the wrath of liberals and conservatives on more than one occasion. Political results, to Scalia, were not nearly as important as remaining true to the law.

“The Constitution is not a living document,” he told a crowd in 2013. “It’s dead, dead, dead. If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

As a jurist, he believed his role was not to transform society, guide the conversation or implement policy, but rather to hold accountable those who wished to do violence to the Constitution.  

For these reasons, and many others, Justice Scalia was perhaps the most effective force against an overreaching judicial system in several generations. If Scalia’s successor possesses even a fraction of the character, integrity and wit that he showed during his many years on the bench, the rights we hold dear as Americans will continue to have a defender in our highest court of appeals.

Rest in peace, Justice Antonin Scalia. On behalf of everyone at NPRI, I can say you will truly be missed. 

Warm regards,

Sharon J. Rossie
NPRI President and staff 

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