Bioethics Blogs

OT: Some Thoughts on Justice Antonin Scalia

After the death of Justice Scalia, the law school communications office asked faculty if they wanted to write anything about him, in 500 words or less. This is not on topic for law and the biosciences (well, except for a few of his opinions, like Maryland v. King or the abortion cases), but I thought I’d post it on the blog anyway.


Prophet or politician? Many memorable Supreme Court justices have played one of these two roles, either providing a voice for others to rally around or crafting positions that will get five votes. Justice Scalia played the prophet for nearly thirty years with brilliance, biting wit, and blazing prose – he may have been, with Justices Holmes and Jackson, one of the three best writers in the Court’s history. He was not, however, the politician; indeed, he may have driven away more votes than he pulled into any given opinion. There was never a Scalia court but instead a Court pushed and prodded, or rebuked and scolded, by Justice Scalia.

The power of his pen means he will be quoted, cited, read, and remembered for many years. In some areas, particularly the Sixth Amendment and possibly the Second, the new directions he gave constitutional law will survive. But in bigger ways, I think his efforts, like those of many prophets, will come to naught. His approach to constitutional interpretation is losing force at the Court, undone, in spite of his best efforts, by the desire of most justices to reach practical results in spite of mismatches between the literal meanings of ancient words and a changed world.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.