Remembering Justice Antonin Scalia: Champion of the Constitution, Defender of Liberty, American Legal Hero

EDWARD PALTZIK - Justice Scalia’s death is a tragedy for America and a nightmare for anyone who cares about the Constitution.  For those who value private property rights, the right to bear arms, and a host of other basic liberties that are frequently under attack from the left, this is a dark day. Scalia served wisely on the Supreme Court during a time of catastrophic cultural, legal and moral decline in this country.  We are fortunate to have had Scalia’s presence on the Court for the past three decades; but for Scalia, America’s decline would have been far more precipitous.  On numerous occasions, Scalia joined forces with four other Supreme Court Justices in order to avoid legal calamity befalling the United States.  Unfortunately, in many other instances, the majority of his fellow Justices chose foolish paths, forcing Scalia to author blistering dissents.  Even in defeat, he strove valiantly to protect our rapidly vanishing liberties. 

Win or lose, his writing was eloquent, insightful and entertaining, and his logic was usually unassailable.  Scalia possessed the two most important qualities for a judge: judicial wisdom and judicial integrity.  Judicial wisdom is the ability to combine facts and law to reach a just result in accordance with a set of guiding principles, something Scalia did time and time again.  Judicial integrity is the ability to consistently adhere to those guiding principles, and Scalia religiously adhered to the immutable principles of our Constitution with his Originalist philosophy of jurisprudence.  Unlike many of his misguided colleagues, Scalia did not believe that the Constitution was a living document subject to constantly evolving interpretation.

At Vanderbilt Law School, I participated in a class called “Litigating the Capital Punishment Case.”  The subject of my term paper was my disagreement with Roper v. Simmons (2005), in which the Supreme Court wrongly held that imposition of capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18 violated the Eighth Amendment, and Atkins v. Virginia (2002), in which the Court ruled that executing people with mental disabilities also violated the Eighth Amendment.  Scalia authored compelling dissents in both cases, upon which I relied in my paper to dismantle the majority’s nonsense.  Happily, my professor also agreed with Scalia, which was most fortunate.  Some years later, I attended a Scalia lecture in Manhattan, at which copies of his book “Reading Law: the Interpretation of Legal Texts” were on sale.  After the lecture, I had an opportunity to meet Scalia.  As he was signing my book, I mentioned my term paper and his Roper and Atkins dissents to him.  A subtle smile appeared on Scalia’s face and he mournfully remarked “ah yes, two of my losses.”

Not long after law school, I applied for a litigation Associate job at a small firm on Long Island and was called for an interview.  My interviewer, Thomas F. Liotti, was (and still is) one of the finest and most accomplished criminal defense attorneys in the country.  I knew that Mr. Liotti disagreed with Scalia’s legal philosophies.  Nonetheless, when the question was asked: “Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?”, my response was “Scalia.” Fortunately, Mr. Liotti valued candor over ideology and I spent three experience-packed years at his firm.  Unfortunately, during the almost ten years since I responded “Scalia,” American jurisprudence has strayed significantly from Scalia’s way of thinking.

Uncompromising intellectual honesty was one of the hallmarks of Scalia’s jurisprudence.  He defended the Constitution without regard to the ever-changing whims of the mob or the ephemeral pressures of the moment.  When his colleagues failed to show the same backbone, he rightly chastised them with stinging barbs of dissent.  Justice Scalia will be missed.

Edward Paltzik is a litigation Partner at the law firm Joshpe Law Group LLP. He has tried numerous criminal and civil cases in state and federal court.