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A Book Review… Understanding Justice Scalia On Law, Faith, And Life

October 31, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By JUDE DOUGHERTY

Scalia, Antonin. Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith and Life Well Lived. Edited by Christopher J. Scalia and Edward Whelan. New York: Crown Forum, 2017. xi +418 pp.

First, some facts about this remarkable man: Antonin Gregory Scalia was born March 11, 1936, in Trenton, N.J. Graduating from Xavier High School in Manhattan, New York City, he attended Georgetown University and later Harvard Law School.
After a year of study in Europe, he began a law career, first in the firm of Jones Day in Cleveland (1951-1967), then as professor of law at the University of Virginia (1967-1971). He then served in a number of government posts until he joined the law faculty of the University of Chicago in 1977.
In 1982, President Reagan nominated Scalia for appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. After Scalia served four years on that court, Reagan nominated him for appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. That appointment was confirmed by U.S. Senate (98-0). At the time of his death, he had been married to Maureen McCarthy, the mother of his eight children, for 55 years.
The book consists of six sections: On the American People and Ethnicity; On Living and Learning; On Faith; On Law; On Virtue and the Public Good; and On Heroes and Friends.
On ethnicity, Scalia notes, “We all have loyalties based on factors other than ethnic heritage that bind us together as Americans. We go to the same church as they, belong to the same union as they, and we went to the same college. So I say you can be proud of your Italian heritage as the Irish are of theirs and the Jews are of theirs without being less than 100 percent American because of that.”
He goes on to say, “While taking pride in what we have brought to America, we should not fail to be grateful for what America has given to us. What makes us American is the belief in the principles of freedom and equality that the country stands for.”
He speaks of America’s religiously grounded democracy. He quotes John Adams to the effect that there can be no liberty without virtue in the people, and no virtue without religion.
His speeches are always interspersed with humor. In a 1988 St. Patrick’s Day speech he proclaimed, “There is not a lot of use in being ethnic unless you are running for office or perhaps going through a confirmation hearing.” Another speech might begin, “You should be warned that I will be telling you some stuff that you do not want to hear.”
In many speeches he addresses the importance of education of the citizenry to render it capable of democratic government. All should be acquainted with the Federalist Papers, yet he found when addressing law students and lawyers that only about five percent had read those papers through.
The American founders believed that morality is essential to the well-being of the republic, and that religion is the best way to foster morality. Scalia quotes chapter 6 of the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution: “Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people are necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.”
The American academic landscape is strewn with colleges that once were denominational but in practice no longer are. Scalia cites: Antioch University was founded by the Christian Church; Bucknell and the University of Chicago were Baptist; Dartmouth and Yale were Congregational; Duke, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt were Methodist; Lehigh was Episcopalian; Princeton, Presbyterian.
With few exceptions, Catholic universities were in time to follow the path to secularization. He speaks to what should be taught and not taught in Catholic universities, and with typical humor adds, “Catholic universities do not exist simply to make it easier for the press to locate some Catholic theologian who disagrees with the Pope.”
There is an excellent speech on Thomas More that Scalia gave dozens of times to Thomas More Societies and other religious groups throughout the country.
He charges that the Supreme Court is partly to blame for the student’s failure to study our legal history and traditions. “The Court has adopted the demonstrably unhistorical view that the Constitution forbids not merely the favoring of one religion over another but even favoring religion over irreligion. In fact it forbids the former but not the latter.”
The Supreme Court has also subjected public school discipline to due process review. “I doubt,” he writes, “that depriving a student of an A grade is a deprivation of property, or that holding a student after school is a deprivation of liberty in the usual sense.”
Other speeches appear under titles such as “Interpreting the U.S. Constitution,” “The Meaning of Freedom of Speech,” “The Scope of Congressional Power,” and “The Separation of Church and State,” in which he presents separation as an authentic Christian tradition. In speaking of “original intent” he finds support from St. Thomas on the subject of textual interpretation. In fact, he often cites St. Thomas in his lectures, displaying more than a superficial knowledge of the Summa Theologiae.
Speaking of judicial overreach, Scalia says, “Congress and the president know the scope of the danger from Islamic terrorists; the Supreme Court of the United States does not. Yet it is that institution that will ultimately decide what telephone searches the NSA can engage in.”
A recent egregious example of the overreach Scalia was talking about is found in the October ruling of District Judge Derrick Watson, who blocked President Trump’s latest bid to impose restrictions on citizens from several countries entering the United States.
It will be the task of some future historian to assess the stature and influence of Justice Antonin Scalia. For now, in spite of the present political climate, George Mason University has enhanced his reputation by renaming its law school the Antonin Scalia Law School.

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