Profile of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Official Portrait of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Official Portrait of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Public Domain

Antonin Gregory Scalia was born on March 11, 1936 and died on February 13, 2016. Scalia is most well-known as an extremely conservative and sometimes opinionated United States Supreme Court Justice whose sharp wit and brilliant legal mind left an indelible mark on the Court due to his quarter century of service.

Early Years

Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey on March 11, 1936 to Salvadore Eugene and Catherine Panaro Scalia.

He was nicknamed “Nino” in honor of being named after his grandfather – a nickname that stayed with him throughout both his personal and professional life. His father, who had emigrated from Sicily, was a professor at Brooklyn College and his mother taught elementary school but she quit teaching upon his birth. Scalia grew up as an only child in the Queens borough of New York City.

Valedictorian at All Levels

Scalia attended Xavier High School, which is located in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, where he graduated first in his class. Xavier is a military school that is operated by a Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church and which during his time there where he became very religious and learned the conservative underpinnings which would remain with him throughout his life.

In 1957, Scalia graduated as valedictorian and summa cum laude from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with a Bachelor of Arts in History.

He then attended Harvard Law School and also graduated valedictorian in 1960. While at Harvard, Scalia was not only the Notes Editor for the Law Review but also where he met Maureen McCarthy, who was an undergraduate at Radcliffe College and would become his wife. They had nine children and there were 28 grandchildren at the time of his death.

Upon law school graduation, Harvard awarded Scalia a Frederick Sheldon Traveling Fellowship which allowed him to travel and research in Europe for one year. On his return to the U.S., Scalia accepted a position at a Cleveland, Ohio law firm where he practiced law until 1967 when he moved his family to Charlottesville, Virginia in order to teach at the University of Virginia Law School.

Nixon Appointee as General Counsel

In 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed Scalia as the general counsel for the Office of Telecommunications Policy where he remained until 1974 when was appointed as an Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. In this position, Scalia argued and won the case of Alfred Dunhill of London, Inc. v. Republic of Cuba before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1977, Scalia accepted a teaching position at the University of Chicago Law School where he stayed for the next five years.

Appointed to the Supreme Court by Reagan

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where he showed his conservative nature and wit; and where he also proved that he was willing to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court even though he was required to follow their rulings.

However, Scalia didn’t have an opportunity to criticize the Supreme Court for long as Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice to the Court in 1986 – a position that he held until death in 2016.

As a Supreme Court Justice, Scalia exercised judicial originalism in interpreting the U.S. Constitution – as if it has a static meaning from the date it was drafted as opposed to the more popular view, which was regularly espoused by Thomas Jefferson, that the Constitution is a “living document.” Scalia was considered to be a moderate conservative on the Court, whereas fellow Justice Clarence Thomas would be considered to be to the far right as a conservative.

Death and Funeral

Scalia and his wife were avid fans of the opera and the arts. Scalia enjoyed traveling and often spoke at Universities and Law Schools.

Scalia died on February 13, 2016 in his sleep at a ranch in West Texas and allegedly of natural causes. Scalia’s decision to maintain the privacy of his medical records and history have helped to exasperate the conspiracy theories that abounded immediately after his death; as well as his family's decision to refrain from having an autopsy performed. His remains lay in repose at the Supreme Court before his funeral on February 20, 2016. His son, a Catholic priest, led the funeral service. Many political dignitaries from both sides of the aisle attended Scalia's funeral. However, President Barack Obama chose not to attend citing safety concerns. 

Legacy

Scalia was a strong advocate of both state’s rights and the Second Amendment. He also believed that the death penalty was constitutional and that there was no constitutional right to abortion or same sex marriages. Scalia wrote more concurring opinions than any other Supreme Court Justice and is third all time for dissenting opinions