When even one’s detractors and ideological opponents give glowing comments about your personality and intellect upon notification of your death, then you know that you have influenced the course of history in an amazing way. Enter Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, otherwise fondly considered a conservative rock star by New York writer Margaret Talbot because of his willingness to “offer the jurisprudential equivalent of smashing a guitar onstage,” according to a Washington Post report Sunday.
Indeed, just last month the forthright Supreme Court justice was once again reminding his audience–a Catholic high school in a New Orleans suburb, no less–that “there is ‘no place’ in the country’s constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence,” based upon a Washington Times report.
Never one to shy away from the limelight on matters of controversy that the jurist believed deserved his outspoken criticism, support or clarification–in and out of the elite chambers where he had worked since being nominated and appointed to the bench under the Reagan presidential administration, Justice Scalia was no withering wallflower. But the Catholic father and grandfather was not someone that his political opponents (or even those who loved him but disagreed with him ideologically–like Ruth Bader Gingsburg) could honestly say they did not find him entertaining. Even Gingsburg, whom he was friends with on-and-off the court had this to say about him, as quoted in a previous LA Times article:
I disagreed with most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it.”
Truly, if one was looking for a pop culture icon on the most serious court in the land, then Justice Scalia was an entertainment promoter’s dream, delivering quips that scored big in news media coverage on the same scale as a quote from a rock legend after a hit concert. And he did it with Italian flair, sometimes even using his hand-under-the-chin flip-off to emphasize his point to those in the media who questioned his freedom of expression.
Political supporters and opponents alike realize the depth of the loss of this jurist to the nation upon his death at age 79 on February 13 in Texas. And already the halls in Congress are filling up to discuss who will replace him–and whether President Obama can find a nominee that will be confirmed by both sides unanimously.
USA Today reports that the last justice on the bench to win unanimous confirmation was Justice Scalia himself. And that was 1987, almost 30 years ago. But even if a jurist can be found that both political parties agree is worthy to sit in the chair once occupied by Justice Scalia–without a political fight, there is still the issue of finding such a man or woman who can ever be as powerfully vocal and thought-provoking as the Italian American who passed away this month, leaving many behind who mourn his death and can’t say enough moving statements about him.