Much will be said in the coming days and weeks about Justice Scalia’s legacy. He served on the Supreme Court for 30 years and was always an active presence during the Court’s oral arguments. Because he served such a long time, it will take some time to adjust to his absence. Scalia’s most important legacy will not be any particular opinion he authored, but his approach to constitutional interpretation in general. He was a champion of the constitutional text and the original understanding of the charter. Scalia stopped the liberals from nullifying the parts of the Constitution that they disagreed with, such as property rights, federalism, and the right to keep and bear arms. In recent years, Scalia criticized his liberal colleagues for citing the practices and precedents of foreign countries because those rulings could not help to shed any light on the meaning of the American Constitution. His finest hour, in my opinion, was when he defended the Great Writ of habeas corpus against a dangerous attack from conservative lawyers in the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11.
Scalia was a conservative, not a libertarian, so I disagreed with many of his opinions, but one can’t really appreciate Scalia unless one was reading Supreme Court rulings in the years before he arrived on the Court in 1986. The quality of the legal analysis and writing were generally poor. Scalia brought real intellectual rigor to the Court’s internal debates and opinions. The conservative legal movement has lost its greatest champion. Scalia was a gamechanger and now that he is gone, there is much uncertainty.
Go here for the epic debate at Cato between Antonin Scalia and Richard Epstein in 1984.