“To live for the moment is the prevailing passion– to live for
yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing a
sense of historical continuity, the sense of belonging to a succession
of generations originating in the past and stretching into the
Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age
of Diminishing Expectations. W. W. Norton & Company; Revised edition
(May 17, 1991)
In the days following his unfortunate passing, stories of how Justice
Scalia affected the lives of well known law professors and high
powered lawyers, among others, have filled the legal news headlines.
But, as any cursory glance of social media sites, where lawyers, law
students, scholars and other legal professionals regularly congregate,
will show, his influence did not stop there, it had a ripple affect
across the country. It seems everyone has their own Scalia story. Here
As a Political Science undergraduate, I recall fondly the shock that I
felt upon my initial readings of Scalia’s opinions. Undoubtedly, as a
dutiful progressive-bleeding-heart-liberal, my mouth probably fell
open, followed shortly thereafter by some reactionary insults or curse
words. However, as with the mark of any truly liberal education, in
the traditional sense of that phrase, my perception grew from pure
disdain into unwavering curiosity. I had to learn more about this
pithy Justice and his ardently held views of constitutional
interpretation, and of life.
I was in first semester at University of San Diego School of Law, a
fresh faced 1L, when I learned that Justice Scalia would be visiting
our school. USD has the Nation’s first Center for Constitutional
Originalism, and also happens to be Catholic, i.e. the perfect
confluence of factors to attract a devoutly Catholic Originalist
Thus, when the opportunity to actually hear him lecture arose, I
emailed the proper contact person immediately, and hoped that maybe,
just maybe they would let a contemptible 1L attend. To my surprise, I
ended up getting into not one but two of his lectures. To be honest, I
cannot remember what it was exactly that he said, but I’ll never
forget how it made me feel. Just like that cliché Maya Angelou quote.
I felt surprised that I could agree with anything that anyone so
ideologically opposed to me had said. And yet, his opinions were so
well considered and so well rooted firmly in the Constitution, they
could not simply be ignored.
It wasn’t until my 2L year, when I had the absolute blessing to attend
a condensed Separation of Powers course that Justice Scalia co-taught
with his former clerk, Professor Michael Ramsey, that I would have the
opportunity to experience the true depth of his wisdom, personality,
and unique humor. He was by far one of the most compelling lecturers
that I had ever had the privilege of witnessing– the temptation to
play solitaire or facebook never even entered my mind.
Although he taught many important substantive principles and points of
law, there were two resounding lessons that left a lasting impression
on me as a lawyer:
(1) Americans should be required to memorize the Constitution.
While I believe this statement was said in his playful jesting manner,
I believe underneath that facade he was being serious. He was truly
dissatisfied with the notion that our country has such limited
interaction with our founding document. Imagine the difference it
would make if our central text became worshipped half as much as
entertainment celebrities! Imagine the impact on legislative and
everyday discourse! No one can dispute that Scalia’s legacy was rooted
deeply in the commitment to honoring the Constitution, and inspiring
others to do likewise.
The other lesson, which seems to reflect a timeless guideline for
(2) Just because a law seems like a good idea, does not mean that it
Or perhaps, the more well known inverse of this principle: “STUPID BUT
CONSTITUTIONAL,” for which he was reportedly gifted a stamp, stating
Scalia’s message was always clear: follow the Constitution. However,
the statement that typically followed this statement, which has not
been reported as heftily by the media, was that if you don’t like it,
then change it– pass a constitutional amendment.
The impetus of that message deeply affected the way that I see the law
and legislative process. It sheds light on the issue that even well
intentioned laws may fall without of the bounds of constitutionality.
The message appears clear: do better, try harder. And I think that’s
all Scalia ever wanted from all of us to do better and be better.
Strive to meet a higher standard.
Scalia was one of my personal heroes for his passion, his committment
to honor the Constitution, and his uncanny ability to inspire us all
to do the same. There are few stars in the legal profession, but he
was indisputably one of them, and he will be deeply missed by us all.