February 26, 2016
WASHINGTON. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died of apparent natural causes Feb. 13 while in Texas on a hunting trip, once said in an interview that while he took his Catholic faith seriously, he never allowed it to influence his work on the high court.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a Catholic judge,” Scalia told The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper, in 2010. “There are good judges and bad judges. The only article in faith that plays any part in my judging is the commandment ‘Thou Shalt Not Lie.’”
Scalia said it wasn’t his job to make policy or law, but to “say only what the law provides.”
On the issue of abortion, for example, he told the Review that “if I genuinely thought the Constitution guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion, I would be on the other (side),” said Scalia, who long held that abortion is not guaranteed in the Constitution. “It would (have) nothing with my religion,” he said. “It has to do with my being a lawyer.”
He was widely regarded as an “originalist,” who said the best method for judging cases was examining what the Founding Fathers meant when writing the Constitution.
“My burden is not to show that originalism is perfect, but that it beats the other alternatives,” he said in a 2010 lecture.
“Justice Scalia is frequently described as a conservative in his political thought and legal analysis, but that description is not altogether accurate,” said Gino Bulso, a partner in the Nashville law firm of Leader, Bulso and Nolan and a former leader in the St. Thomas More Society of Middle Tennessee, which was founded to promote Catholic principles in the application of the law. “He was instead someone who, in deciding the thousands of cases argued before him, used his unique intellectual gifts to follow the law and pursue the truth, wherever it led. He discharged his duties as a Supreme Court justice with an intellectual vigor and honesty that few jurists possess.”
“In the nearly 30 years that he was on the bench, he brought about a sea change in American jurisprudence in the approach to statutory construction,” Bulso said. “As a result of his influence, courts in the country now rely more on the plain text of a statute to decide cases rather than resort to legislative history and other resources to determine how a statute is to be understood.”
Scalia was known for the strong and colorful language of his opinions. “Although he was often criticized as overbearing and arrogant in his approach to the law, his approach was actually the opposite,” Bulso said. “He had the humility to understand that his role was not to create law from the bench and expect others to follow it, but rather to interpret the law as it was written in the Constitution and to apply it in accordance with its terms.”
Nominated to the high court in June 1986 by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the Senate that September, Scalia was the longest-serving member of the current Supreme Court. He was 79.
With his death, there are now five Catholics among the remaining eight justices.
Scalia was found dead the morning of Feb. 13 in his room at Cibolo Creek Ranch south of Marfa, Texas. The justice was part of a group of 30 or so guests on a hunting trip. Ranch owner John Poindexter told reporters that the justice seemed his usual self at dinner Feb. 12 but also noted Scalia had told his group he was tired and had turned in early. When Scalia didn’t appear for breakfast the next morning, Poindexter and another staff member went to check on him and found the justice in “in complete repose” in his room.
By mid-afternoon Feb. 13, Judge Cinderela Guevara of Presidio County, Texas, determined he had died of natural causes. Before making her ruling, she said, she consulted with sheriff’s investigators, who were on the scene and who said there were no signs of foul play. Guevara said she also talked with Scalia’s physician in Washington; a few days before his hunting trip, the jurist told his doctor he was not feeling well.
“We are all deeply saddened by the sudden and unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia,” said Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, the diocese Scalia and his wife of nearly 56 years, Maureen McCarthy Scalia, called home.
“His presence among us encouraged us to be faithful to our own responsibilities whether familial, religious or vocational. His wisdom brought clarity to issues. His witness to truth enabled us to seek to do the same,” the bishop said in a statement.
Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said of Scalia: “I admired his strong and unwavering faith in the Lord and his dedication to serving our country by upholding the U.S. Constitution.” He noted that every year, Scalia attended the Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. The Mass is celebrated to invoke God’s blessings on those who work in the administration of justice.
Besides his wife, Scalia is survived by the couple’s five sons and four daughters as well as 36 grandchildren. Their son, Father Paul Scalia, is a priest of the Arlington Diocese.
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, March 11, 1936, and raised on Long Island, Antonin “Nino” Gregory Scalia was an only child. His father, Salvatore, was an Italian immigrant from Sicily, who worked as a clerk and was a graduate student when his son was born. Salvatore eventually became a college professor. Antonin’s mother, born in Trenton to Italian immigrant parents, was an elementary school teacher.
In 1953, young Antonin graduated first in his class from Jesuit-run Xavier High School in the New York borough of Manhattan. He graduated from Jesuit-run Georgetown University in 1957, and went on to Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1960.
Scalia moved to Cleveland, practicing law there with the firm of Jones, Day, Cockley and Reavis until 1967. He then joined the faculty of the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville. He took a leave in 1971 when President Richard Nixon appointed him general counsel for the Office of Telecommunications Policy.
He left the university in 1974, when he was appointed assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at Department of Justice. In 1977, Scalia returned to teaching. He was on the faculty at the University of Chicago Law School. He also was a visiting professor at the law schools of Georgetown and Stanford University.
In 1982, Reagan nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where he served until being named to the Supreme Court.
In other reaction in Washington to Scalia’s death, The Catholic University of America in a Feb. 15 statement called him “a man who loved his family, his faith, his country and the Constitution that established it.”
“He insisted that there is no such thing as a Catholic judge, only good and bad ones,” the university said. “But in his 30 years on the Supreme Court, he offered a model for American Catholics of how we might serve both God and country.”
In 1994, Catholic University honored Scalia with the James Cardinal Gibbons Medal, given for service to the nation, the Catholic Church or the university. In 1999, the university gave Scalia an honorary degree.
In 2010, the St. Thomas More Society of Maryland honored Scalia with its “Man for All Seasons Award,” given to members of the legal profession who embody the ideals of St. Thomas More.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese of the Military Services said Feb. 15 that Scalia “was a brilliant jurist who contributed much to the country and I mourn his passing. We are all poorer, because he no longer walks among us, but richer, because of the gifts he shared with us.”
In 1992, Scalia told a group of high school students at Washington’s Georgetown Visitation High School that, as Catholics, they might feel out of step with the rest of the world, but they should learn to accept it and take pride in it.
He said he was raised a Catholic when the religion was not in the mainstream.
“When I was the age of you young ladies, the church provided obtrusive reminders that we were different,’’ he said, referring to meatless Fridays and Sunday morning fasts before receiving Communion. These practices “were not just to toughen us up’’ but to “require us to be out of step,’’ he said.
Scalia noted the sense of “differentness’’ should have enabled Catholics “to be strong enough on bigger issues’’ such as abortion, contraception and divorce.
He also spoke of what he called the necessary distinction between church and state.
“The business of the state is not God’s business,’’ he said.
Contributing to this story was George P. Matysek Jr., Carol Zimmermann and Andy Telli.