Justice Antonin Scalia Dies At 79

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the brilliant jurist who did perhaps more than any other judge to make originalism respectable as an approach to interpreting the U.S. Constitution, died today while vacationing at a ranch in Texas.  He was 79.

President Ronald Reagan nominated Antonin Scalia–his friends called him Nino–to the Supreme Court in 1986.  He had previously served on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for four years, following many years in government service, legal academia and private practice.

I never met Justice Scalia, but I did sit just a few feet away from him in October 1998, when I attended an argument in the Supreme Court in a telecommunications case I worked on (with friend and colleague Jeff Babbin) while I was an attorney at Wiggin and Dana in New Haven, CT.  In addition to his brilliance, Justice Scalia was known for his great sense of humor, and it was on display during oral argument that day.

The case was about competing interpretations of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a hyper-technical and confusing law if ever there was one.  Although the case had national implications for the deregulation of the local telephone industry, one could not imagine a duller statutory construction case.  At one point in the argument, former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, who was arguing for some of the telephone companies (or perhaps it was Laurence Tribe?), described the statute at issue as “clear.”  Without hesitating for a moment, Justice Scalia belted out, “You call this statute clear?”  The courtroom erupted in laughter.

I did not agree with Justice Scalia’s approaches to interpreting the federal constitution or statutes. And a big, big fight is already brewing as folks inside and outside the Beltway begin to worry about how the balance of power on the Supreme Court will change if President Obama appoints the person who will take Justice Scalia’s seat. I’ll be following those developments closely. For now, however, I like to remember the Justice Scalia who made all of us laugh in the courtroom that day. May he rest in peace, and condolences to his family.

UPDATE: 2/15/16: Check out this symposium on Justice Scalia over at Politico.  Nineteen legal minds share their perspectives on his life and career.

SCOTUSblog also has a page devoted to coverage concerning Justice Scalia’s legacy and the consequences of his death.


3 Comments on “Justice Antonin Scalia Dies At 79”

  1. Jeffrey Babbin says:

    Dan, thanks for the memory of that day we had at the U.S. Supreme Court argument all those years ago. Justice Scalia was quite a presence in person, and his sudden passing is a shocker. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of ink spilled in the press over the next week about the implications for the Court and the presidential election. – Jeff Babbin

    • Dan Klau says:

      I remember that day like it was yesterday Jeff. We woke up at, what, 4:00 am, to get in line at the court? That our respective spouses were there as well made the trip even more memorable!

  2. lindacase says:

    The friendship between Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is inspiring. What a symbol of open minds.

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