WASHINGTON—Justice Antonin Scalia—one of the most acclaimed legal scholars ever to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States—has passed away at age 79.
Justice Scalia was on a trip hunting quail in Marfa, Texas. He had gone to his room after dinner on Friday, February 12, and made no complaints that he was feeling ill or showing signs of medical distress. When he did not show for breakfast Saturday morning, someone was sent to check his room and discovered the deceased justice.
Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, and confirmed 98-0 by the U.S. Senate, Scalia was known as an unapologetic “originalist:” that every legal text, including each provision in the U.S. Constitution, should be interpreted according to the plain meaning that people of ordinary education and public awareness understood those words to mean at the time they were adopted.
According to Scalia, only originalism confined unelected federal judges to their proper role in the democratic republic established by the Constitution.
Justice Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1936, the son of an Italian immigrant father and a Trenton-born mother. A devout Roman Catholic, he graduated from Georgetown University, then Harvard Law School.
Scalia married his wife, Maureen, in 1960, when he was still a law student at Harvard. They had nine children together, and 35 grandchildren.
A famous professor, Scalia’s teaching and scholarship on originalism became required reading in many legal circles. When the Federalist Society was founded in 1982 to promote originalism, a student at University of Chicago Law School, David McIntosh (who would later become a congressman from Indiana, and is currently the president of the Club for Growth), approached Scalia to become the chapter’s first faculty advisor.
Congressman McIntosh tells Breitbart News, “Justice Scalia will be sorely missed by a nation that barely realizes all he’s done for it.”
President Reagan appointed then-Professor Scalia in July, 1982, to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. There he quickly developed a national reputation as one of the most brilliant and eloquent judges in America.
Four years later, when Reagan elevated Justice William Rehnquist to take the seat of retiring Chief Justice Warren Burger, Reagan also elevated Scalia to Rehnquist’s seat as an associate justice on the nation’s highest court.
During his time on the Supreme Court, Scalia played a decisive role in some of the most consequential decisions in American history. He advocated for confining Congress’s power over the economy to its constitutional limits and also was unparalleled in his exposition of free speech, religious liberty, and other fundamental rights.
In 2008, Justice Scalia wrote for the Court’s 5-4 decision D.C. v. Heller, ruling that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is a right possessed by private citizens, unconnected to any public militia service. Four justices dissented, arguing that no American can claim the right to own a gun as a personal right.
He is also known for some of the most famous dissents ever penned by a Supreme Court justice. In 1992 he wrote that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, because the Constitution does not include any right to abortion. In 2012, he wrote part of the joint dissent in NFIB v. Sebelius arguing that Obamacare should be struck down as unconstitutional. And recently in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Scalia passionately argued that the U.S. Constitution does not redefine the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples, and instead leaves such decisions to the states and the American people.
Justice Scalia’s passing will spark a wildfire in the presidential race. Professor Ken Blackwell of Liberty University, who holds leadership positions at a host of national organizations, tells Breitbart News, “Many of the fundamental rights that Americans hold most dear are hanging by a thread, now that this national hero has passed away.”
Calling the 2016 election a referendum on the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional form of government, he adds, “The American people have the right to be heard on this incredibly important matter. Every Republican senator must use all the means at his or her disposal to refuse to allow a new justice to be confirmed until the voters have spoken, and the next president is sworn in.”
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.