Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1936, Antonin Scalia was raised in a conservative Catholic household. After attending Georgetown University and earning his undergraduate degree and law degree from Harvard Law School, Scalia pursued an illustrious career as a lawyer, law professor, and eventually as a federal judge.
Scalia made history when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court in 1986. As the first Italian-American justice on the Court, he quickly became an influential figure with his strict textual approach to interpreting the Constitution. Originalism—the belief that laws should be understood based on their original intent—became synonymous with Scalia’s jurisprudence. He believed the Federal Constitution has a fixed meaning that does not fluctuate with the weather:
“The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.”
Throughout his nearly 30-year tenure on the bench, Justice Scalia authored numerous significant opinions that showcased not only his respect for the Constitution’s initial meaning but also his keen grasp of legal principles. Some examples include District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), where he secured an individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense; Crawford v. Washington (2004), which reshaped criminal defendants’ Confrontation Clause rights; and Employment Division v. Smith (1990), where he articulated the standard for evaluating religious freedom claims.
Known for his colorful dissents and incisive questioning during oral arguments, Antonin Scalia was a favorite among legal enthusiasts who admired his wit, directness, and penchant for vivid metaphors. “Wilson was the earliest proponent and perhaps the inventor of ‘the living Constitution’” said Scalia, “As you may have guessed, I believe that Madison was right and Wilson was wrong.” As a key architect of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison’s intimate understanding of its intent adds an undeniable richness to his originalist stance.
In recent years, there has been a notable increase in authoritarian actions exhibited by numerous governors and local government officials in the United States. Furthermore, the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Internal Revenue Service, and other federal institutions have been employed as tools to target domestic political adversaries. The consequent augmentation of the surveillance apparatus, frequently referred to as fascism, has led to the gradual erosion of personal privacy, property rights, and constitutional liberties, rendering them as relics of a largely forgotten past.
In the words of The Hill contributor Grady Means:
Many Americans and legal scholars have been screaming that all of this is unconstitutional and plainly illegal. Regrettably, what they all have missed is that, for the past 50 years, America has had a covert “Constitutional Convention” under way, which has dismissed much of the Bill of Rights and radically restructured American rules of governance and the criminal justice system. We have become a Nation of Men (and Women), rather than the Constitution’s Nation of Laws.
The infringement upon American Liberties can be attributed to deviating from the original purpose, significance, and intention of the Constitution. Hence, the importance of originalism. “In English that means that I interpret the Constitution as a law,” she said, “and that I interpret its text as text, and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time and it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it,” remarked U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice, Amy Coney Barrett.
The Federal Constitution is a social compact in the form of a social contract chartered by “We, the People” of the Several States by and through their delegated representatives. Inasmuch as it constitutes an irrevocable, legally binding Agreement, alterations or abrogations cannot transpire without the express authorization of its Grantors, or their Posterity. Dutiful legal practitioners comprehend and adhere to the tenet that no individual possesses the authority to impede the lawful exercise of constitutional liberties, irrespective of personal sentiments towards the matter. When it came to the first amendment, Scalia once commented:
“I do not like scruffy people who burn the American flag,” but “regrettably, the first amendment gives them the right to do that”.
On the other hand, there are dishonest, ignorant political and legal actors who create covert loopholes to obtain more power and privilege for themselves at the expense of the People and the Nation. Utilizing propaganda and sophisticatedly deceptive political discourse, they aim to disparage and undermine the fixed legitimacy of the Federal Charter. Barack Obama exemplified this notion quite remarkably in his January 2017 farewell address:
Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We the people give it meaning—with our participation, and the choices we make.
While this is undoubtedly unconstitutional, without someone willing and able to deconstruct and prosecute their treasonous activity, these persons get away unscathed. Consequently, the People themselves bear the financial burden and face the repercussions of transgressors exploiting power conferred upon them.
Scalia’s influence on American jurisprudence extends beyond his own written opinions. Considered a conservative bulwark, his steadfast dedication to originalism helped shift the legal landscape, prompting other judges and lawmakers to more closely evaluate constitutional text when shaping legislation and policy. Nonetheless, his tenure spanning three decades concluded rather suddenly in 2016 when he was found pulseless at a luxury Texas ranch with a pillow over his face, declared dead of natural causes over the phone without an autopsy being performed.
Presidents and other political figures lack the capacity to drain the swamp due to their inherent involvement in the restricted governance system, as delineated by the Constitution. It is uniquely the People themselves–inclusive of their Posterity–as Grantors of the Federal Charter that can enforce the changes needed in their Government.