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The Legacy of Justice Scalia

On February 13th, 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia died at age 79. Having served on the Supreme Court of the United States for nearly thirty years, Justice Scalia ranks among the fifteen longest terms in office at the Supreme Court. Regardless of his political stances and the opinions he wrote, Justice Scalia has left his mark in the history of American constitutional law and politics, and he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most monumental Supreme Court justices of all time.

Since President Ronald Reagan appointed him in 1986, Justice Scalia demonstrated remarkable adherence to the rule of law and promoted it above all else. His consistency in recognizing his duty to interpret the law as written—not to rewrite it or give new meaning to it—is only one of his claims to fame. Every chance he had, Justice Scalia persuaded scholars, students, and citizens that his job was to use the rule of law to judge. “If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge,” Justice Scalia said, “you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach."

Justice Scalia also stood firm in defending democracy for the people of the United States. Despite his honorable position on the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia demonstrated great humility in leaving many decisions to the people. The justices on the Supreme Court are unelected, and, as Justice Scalia consistently reminded, the few and unelected should not rule over the people’s right to choose, to participate, and to self-govern. That is democracy done right.

Aside from his constitutional values, Justice Scalia brought unmatched wit and character to the Court and to American political thought. His opinions express his thoughtfulness and expansive knowledge of the law—and his personal, often blunt style makes his writing all the more enjoyable. Provoking thought and passion was his specialty, and his colleagues could not help but recognize that—even painfully so for those who frequently disagreed with him. Despite their innumerable differences, right-leaning Justice Scalia and his left-leaning counterpart Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg developed a close, meaningful friendship. If that does not speak to the kind of man he was, it is hard to say what would.

Beyond his thoughtfulness and exercise of the rule of law, Justice Scalia taught that “the only thing in the world not for sale is character.” His lifestyle spoke to that. As an incredible legal scholar, outstanding justice, loyal family man, and devoted Catholic, Justice Scalia’s life was a testimony to the Gospel. Central to his legacy, he left us with this message: “Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”


Briana Chui is a senior at Seattle Pacific University, studying political science, philosophy, and psychology, and she has specific interests in contemporary political theory and in American constitutional law. In addition to her studies, Briana is involved at SPU as a resident advisor and within multiple student organizations including the Ethics Bowl debate team, the Political Union, and AEI Executive Council. In her spare time, Briana enjoys reading, rock-climbing, hiking, and talking about Star Wars. 

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