Faculty Reflect on Justice Scalia’s Legacy

February 17, 2016

Following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, a number of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law faculty members have commented on his legacy and the looming battle over his replacement. Find these stories and more on our In the News page.

Steven G. Calabresi, Clayton J. and Henry R. Barber Professor of Law, former clerk to Justice Scalia:

“Antonin Scalia is one of only 112 Americans to have served on the U.S. Supreme Court, but he is the most important justice in American history — greater than former Chief Justice John Marshall himself. Justice Scalia believed in following the law and in textualism […] Justice Scalia will be remembered for his commitment to the principle that judges should be guided in deciding cases by the original public meaning of the texts that they are interpreting. He has totally reshaped the legal culture so that today there is much less use of legislative history and much more reliance on the constitutional text than there was prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court in 1986. […] Scalia has fundamentally and forever reshaped the way Americans will think about law.” —USA TODAY, February 14

“I loved my year working for Justice Scalia. He was lively, funny, entertaining, surprisingly modest for a Supreme Court Justice. […] he was able to relate to ordinary people, he didn’t consider himself better than everyone else. […] He wanted to teach us as lawyers and advocates, to argue both sides of the case.” —WBEZ’s Morning Shift, February 15

Eugene Kontorovich, Professor of Law:

“Many justices are associated with a particular approach or set of interest. Few are associated with fundamental approaches to understanding the Constitution itself as Scalia. Few justices have done as much to elevate ideas in popular discourse—to make doctrines of interpretation exciting and alluring—as Scalia. The revival of textualism and originalism, in which he played a major role, helped to drive a more general growth of appreciation in the Constitution and its authors. While often sneered at by academics, these doctrines of constitutional constraint proved vastly and intuitively appealing to the public, who understood that if the Constitution was a mirror for reflecting society’s views (or those of its elites), it was not worth much.” —Politico, February 14

Andrew M. Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law:

“Almost everyone either loved Antonin Scalia or hated him. I’m ambivalent. He was a brilliant jurist and a joy to read. He was wrong about same-sex marriage, but Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the somewhat daffy opinion recognizing it, deserved the ridicule Scalia piled onto him. On crucial occasions, however, Scalia’s dedication to judicial restraint, the main theme of his jurisprudence, evaporated. Then he turned into a partisan hack, with no awareness that this had happened. It is precisely because he was a great man that he was sometimes a tragic figure.” —Salon, February 16

Steven Lubet, Edna B. and Ednyfed H. Williams Memorial Professor of Law, Director, Fred Bartlit Center for Trial Advocacy:

“Consider this statement from an impeccable authority on the inner workings of the Supreme Court, who believed it was wrong to risk even a single 4-4 decision, let alone several months worth. It is unacceptable, he said, for the court to proceed unnecessarily ‘with eight justices, raising the possibility that, by reason of a tie vote, it will find itself unable to resolve the significant legal issue presented by the case.’ Even one such instance, he continued, ‘impairs the functioning of the court.’ […]The writer, as you may have guessed, was none other than Justice Scalia, explaining why he did not disqualify himself in the infamous 2004 duck hunting case, Cheney v. District Court, although he recognized that recusal might have been apt in an abundance of caution. […] Note to Senate Republicans: The best way to honor Justice Scalia's memory and legacy would be to respect the needs of the Supreme Court, to which he devoted so much of his extraordinary life.” —Chicago Tribune, February 15

John O. McGinnis, George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law:

“Justice Scalia is one of the few jurists who vindicate Carlyle’s great man theory of history. Because he brought three large and different talents to the Court, he changed the course of its jurisprudence. He had the intellect to fashion theories of interpretation, the pen to make them widely known, and the ebullience to make it all seem fun.” —Library of Law and Liberty, February 14

Stephen B. Presser, Raoul Berger Professor of Law Emeritus:

“There will probably never be another justice like Antonin Scalia. He was utterly brilliant, but unlike most judges, he was also a gifted showman. Scalia was the first U.S. Supreme Court justice since the beginning of the republic, perhaps, who combined a comic wit with deep conservatism, deep piety, and a love for opera and operatic oratory — and he was the most acerbic critic of Supreme Court bloviation by his colleagues. His will be, literally, a tough act to follow.” —Chicago Tribune, February 15