Posted by: Elizabeth A. (Betty) Thomas | February 25, 2016

Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court – 1936-2016

Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court 1936-2016

Antonin Gregory Scalia died on Saturday, February 13th 2016 in his sleep of an apparent heart attack at a resort in West Texas. He was 79 years old.

Justice Scalia was born March 11, 1936 in Trenton, New Jersey. He was the only child of Salvadore Eugene and Catherine Panaro Scalia. His father emigrated from Sicily and his mother was a first generation Italian-American. He married Maureen McCarthy in 1960 and they have nine children and 28 grandchildren.


Antonin Scalia graduated first in his class from Xavier High School in Manhattan. He graduated valedictorian and summa cum laude with an A.B. in History from Georgetown University and the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) in 1957. He earned his L.L.B from Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 1960. While at law school he was note editor for the Harvard Law Review and later a Sheldon Fellow from 1960-1961.


After law school, Antonin Scalia went into private practice with the corporate law firm of Jones, Day, Cockley & Reavis in Cleveland, Ohio (1961-1967). Although he had been offered a partnership in the firm, Antonin Scalia resigned to accept a teaching position at the University of Virginia Law School (1967-1974) where he became an expert in administrative law.

He served the federal government as General Counsel of the Office of Telecommunications Policy (1971-1972), Chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States, an agency that advises federal regulators on administrative procedure (1972-1974), and Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice (1974-1977). The latter office provides legal advice to the president and attorney general and during Scalia’s time advised President Nixon on Watergate issues.

At the end of President Ford’s presidency, Scalia became a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University and Scholar in Residence at the American Enterprise Institute. From 1977 to 1982, he was a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. Between 1980 and 1981, he was also a Visiting Professor of Law at Stanford University.

As a result of his conservative opinions, President Reagan appointed Scalia to Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982.

Supreme Court

President Ronald Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 98 to 0 and took the oath of office on September 26, 1986. He was the first Italian-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the court’s longest serving active member, Justice Scalia often set the tone of a hearing by confronting the attorneys and intellectually challenging them and his colleagues. He liked making sessions engaging and entertaining and would make jokes and extreme comments to make people think.  His writing showed a keen wit with a sense of humor. His dissents are readable, clear, logical, and sometimes blunt.

Justice Scalia followed a judicial philosophy of “originalism” which holds the belief that the Constitution should be interpreted in its original form as it was when ratified over two hundred years ago by the country’s founders. He opposed “judicial activism,” believing instead in “judicial restraint” where the legislature as representatives of the people should be responsible for implementing change, not the judiciary. Although considered the conservative intellectual of the justices, he did not always vote in that direction. For example, in United States v. Eichman, he voted to overturn laws that prohibited flag burning, citing it as a constitutionally protected right of free speech.

While Justice Scalia is more known for his controversial dissents, some of his more important majority opinions follow:

Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004).

The Supreme Court held that the state trial court’s sentencing of the defendant to more than the statutory maximum on the basis of the judge’s finding that the defendant acted with deliberate cruelty violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms; that statutes banning handgun possession violated the Second Amendment; and that a statute that prohibited a lawful firearm for the purpose of self-defense violated the Second Amendment.

Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009).

The Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the defendant’s right to confront those who testify against him or her. Unless the witness, in this case a lab technician in a drug case, appears in court or is otherwise available for cross examination, his/her testimony is inadmissible.

AT&T v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011); Am. Express Co. v. Italian Colors Rest., 133 S.Ct. 2304 (2013).

The Supreme Court held in the AT&T case that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts California’s judicial rule regarding the unconscionability of class arbitration waivers in consumer contracts. In American Express, the Court determined that a contractual waiver of class arbitration was enforceable despite high costs of individual arbitration. Both of these cases impact class actions and alternative dispute resolution.

Writings by Justice Scalia can be found through the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School.

While Justice Scalia would have intense arguments with other justices, he maintained strong close relationships with them too. Upon his death Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of his closest friends and ideological opposite, praised him by stating:

“Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: “We are different, we are one,” different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots-the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”-and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.”



Liptak, A. (2016, February 13). Antonin Scalia, Justice on the Supreme Court, Dies at 79. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Legal Information Institute (LII). (2016). Writings by Justice Scalia. Retrieved from

Overley, J. (2016, February 14). Scalia took on gun control, class actions in top opinions. Law360. Retrieved from

Scalia, Antonin. (2010). Biography Reference Bank.

Supreme Court of the United States. (2016). Retrieved from


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