Antonin Scalia

Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on Saturday, Feb. 13. Scalia was appointed to the high court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.

By Robert Barnes
February 13, 2016 at 5:41 PM

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the intellectual cornerstone of the court’s modern conservative wing, whose elegant and acidic opinions inspired a movement of legal thinkers and ignited liberal critics, died Feb. 13 on a ranch near Marfa, Tex. He was 79.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

In a statement Saturday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts said: “On behalf of the Court and retired Justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his family.”

Justice Scalia, the first Italian American to serve on the court, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. He took his seat Sept. 26, 1986, and quickly became the kind of champion to the conservative legal world that his benefactor was in the political realm.

Justice Scalia was an outspoken opponent of abortion, affirmative action and what he termed the “so-called homosexual agenda,” and his intellectual rigor, flamboyant style and eagerness to debate his detractors energized conservative law students, professors and intellectuals who felt outnumbered by liberals in their chosen professions.

“He has by the force and clarity of his opinions become a defining figure in American constitutional law,” Northwestern University law professor Steven Calabresi said at a Federalist Society dinner honoring Justice Scalia at the 20-year mark of his service on the Supreme Court.

Justice Scalia was the most prominent advocate of a manner of constitutional interpretation called “originalism,” the idea that judges should look to the meaning of the words of the Constitution at the time they were written.

He mocked the notion of a “living” Constitution, one that evolved with changing times, as simply an excuse for judges to impose their ideological views.

Critics countered that the same could be said for originalism — and that the legal conclusions Justice Scalia said were dictated by that approach meshed neatly with the justice’s views on the death penalty, gay rights and abortion.

It is hard to overstate Justice Scalia’s effect on the modern court. Upon his arrival, staid oral arguments before the justices became jousting matches, with Justice Scalia aggressively questioning counsel with whom he disagreed, challenging his colleagues and often dominating the sessions.

He asked so many questions in his first sitting as a justice that Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. whispered to Justice Thurgood Marshall: “Do you think he knows the rest of us are here?”

Justice Scalia was just as ready for combat outside the court. He relished debating his critics at law schools and in public appearances, although he sometimes displayed a thin skin.

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