Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) was, until this past weekend, the longest-serving judge on the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. He was also its most outspoken and, along with Bobbsey Twin Clarence Thomas, arguably its most right-wing. He was appointed by President Reagan in 1986, becoming the first Italian American on the court and the 101st White man.
His death leaves the Court divided four to four between liberals and conservatives. That gives President Obama the golden opportunity to make it a liberal court. But he will have to get his appointment through the Republican-controlled Senate – in an election year!
Scalia was against:
- 1964 Civil Rights Act,
- 1965 Voting Rights Act,
- affirmative action,
- school desegregation,
- same-sex marriage,
- equal rights for women,
In Shelby County v Holder (2013) he helped to gut the Voting Rights Act, saying it was unfair to Whites.
In Citizens United v FEC (2010) he allowed the rich to, in effect, buy elections in the name of “free speech”.
He helped to send Troy Davis to his death, even though there was no physical evidence and most witnesses had taken back their testimony. Sending possibly innocent (Black) men to their death was no big deal:
“This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”
He also helped to send Gary Graham to his death, also probably innocent.
Scalia was a big believer in capital punishment, pointing to the case of Henry McCollum, found guilty of raping and killing an 11-year-old girl, calling a “quiet death by lethal injection” an “enviable” fate. But McCollum, like Davis, was found guilty based on coerced testimony and no physical evidence. Twenty years after Scalia refused to hear his case, DNA evidence proved that McCollum was innocent.
Scalia was an “originalist”, meaning he read the US Constitution according to the original intent of those who wrote it: rich White men who lived in the 1780s, many of them slave owners.
But that was just intellectual window dressing to make his stone-cold racism – and sexism and homophobia and classism – look respectable. When it came to, say, the Fourteenth Amendment, which was clearly intended give Black people equal protection under the law, he suddenly became a “textualist”, going strictly by the letter of the law, not the original intent.
His racism became crystal clear in the affirmative action case Fisher v University of Texas (2013), where he said:
“… there are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school … a slower-track school where they do well … I’m just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer [Blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer.”
Scalia died this past weekend in his sleep after a day of hunting. He was 79.
– Abagond, 2016.
- Troy Davis
- Gary Graham
- Fisher v University of Texas
- 1964 Civil Rights Act
- 1965 Voting Rights Act
- American school resegregation
- racial nadir
- The 2016 Presidential Election