A Biography of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
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Conservative Credentials:

While the confrontational style of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Gregory "Nino" Scalia is widely regarded as one of his less appealing qualities, it underscores his clear sense of right and wrong. Motivated by a strong moral compass, Scalia opposes judicial activism in all its forms, favoring instead judicial restraint and a constructivist approach to the interpretation of the Constitution.

Scalia has stated on numerous occasions that the power of the Supreme Court is only as effective as the laws created by Congress.

Early Life & Formative Years:

Scalia was born March 11, 1936 in Trenton, NJ, the only son of Eugene and Catherine Scalia. As a second generation American, Scalia grew up with a strong Italian home-life and was raised Roman Catholic. The family moved to Queens when Scalia was a child, and he graduated first in his class from St. Francis Xavier, a military prep school in Manhattan. He also graduated first in his class from Georgetown University with a degree in history. He earned his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he also graduated at the top of his class.

Early Career:

Scalia's first job out of Harvard was working in commercial law for the international firm of Jones Day, where he worked from 1961 to 1967. The lure of academia drew him to become a law professor at the University of Virginia from 1967 to 1971.

In 1971, he was appointed general council of the Office of Telecommunications under the Nixon administration. He then spent two years as chairman of the US Administration Conference before joining the Ford administration in 1974, where he worked as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Council.


With the election of Jimmy Carter, Scalia left government service and returned to academia in 1977. Until 1982, Scalia occupied a number of academic positions, including resident scholar for the conservative American Enterprise Institute and law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, University of Chicago School of Law and Stanford. He also briefly served as chairman of the American Bar Association's section on administrative law and the Conference of Section Chairs. In 1982, Scalia's philosophy of judicial restraint began to gather momentum after Ronald Reagan appointed him to the US Court of Appeals.

Supreme Court Nomination:

In 1986, Chief Justice Warren Burger retired and President Reagan appointed Justice William Rehnquist to the top spot. Rehnquist's appointment drew all the attention from Congress and the media (and even the Court); many on the court were pleased, but Democrats strongly opposed his appointment. Scalia, who was tapped by Reagan to fill the vacancy, slipped through the confirmation process virtually unnoticed and floated by with a 98-0 vote (Sens. Barry Goldwater and Jack Garn didn't cast votes). The vote was surprising because Scalia was far more conservative than any other Justice on the High Court at the time.


Scalia is one of the most well-known Justices on the court and is famous for his combative personality and his judicial philosophy of "originalism" (the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted in terms of what it meant to its original authors). Scalia told CBS in 2008 that his interpretive philosophy is about determining what the words of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights meant to those who ratified them. Scalia maintains he is not a "strict constructionist," however. "I do not think the Constitution or any text should be interpreted either strictly or sloppily; it should be interpreted reasonably."


Scalia's sons, Eugene and John, worked for the firms that represented George W. Bush in the landmark case, Bush v. Gore, which determined the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

Scalia drew fire from liberals for refusing to recuse himself from the case. In 2006, Scalia was asked, but declined, to recuse himself from the case of Hamden v. Rumsfeld because he offered an opinion on an issue related to the case while it was still pending (Scalia remarked that Guantanamo detainees don't have the right to be tried in federal courts).

Personal Life vs. Public Life:

After graduating from Georgetown University, Scalia spent a year in Europe as a student at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. At Cambridge, he met Maureen McCarthy, a Radcliffe English student. In 1960, they married and had nine children, and (at last count) 28 grandchildren. Throughout his term on the High Court, Scalia was fiercely protective of his family's privacy, but in 2007 he began granting interviews after years of refusing to do so. His sudden willingness to engage the media was due primarily to the fact that his children had all become full-grown adults.