Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court career did more good than harm

Author: sarahwornow7 | Last modified: Jan. 19, 2018, 9:46 p.m.


PRO (4 arguments)

Definitions:

“good” means for the good of the Supreme Court as an institution

“harm” means harming the reputation of the Supreme Court as the final interpretation of what is legal under the U.S. Constitution

Weighing Mechanism: Judge, you should weigh this debate on Justice Scalia’s contribution to the integrity of the Supreme Court, since his primary role as a Supreme Court justice was to judge fairly.

1. Claim: Despite the common thought that Justice Scalia was a hard-nosed conservative, in fact, Scalia was a strict Constitutionalist who had the integrity to decide cases in accordance with the wording of the Constitution and against what he personally believed or what was politically popular.
Warrant:

There is a key difference from what the public paints Scalia to be and what he really was. The media tries to show Scalia as an extreme conservative justice who dissented on nearly every decision. However, even when Scalia wrote very conservative opinions, these opinions were only formulated because of Scalia’s belief that every law must be acceptable under the Constitution. This viewpoint has led to him being instrumental in many split court decisions that have huge societal benefits today, particularly in the area of defendants’ rights.

Impact:

The most obvious example where Scalia proved he was a Constitutionalist and not motivated by political conservatism was in the most important free speech decision of the 1980s. In Texas v. Johnson, Scalia had the decisive vote that decided that flag burning was legal under the Constitution. Even though the conservative party clearly frowns upon this practice, and Scalia himself found flag burning disgraceful, Scalia stuck with the Constitution and voted in favor of free speech rights. Thus, Justice Scalia had the integrity to decide a case against his own personal beliefs. Scalia himself said,  “We don’t sit here to make the law, to decide who ought to win. We decide who wins under the law that the people have adopted. And very often, if you’re a good judge, you don’t really like the result you’re reaching.”

Sources:

New York Times

2. Claim: Throughout Justice Scalia’s career, he vehemently protected the due process of law which lead to outcomes that protected our rights to privacy.
Warrant:

Over his tenure on the court, Scalia consistently sided on providing citizens more privacy from government intrusions.  These privacy rights protect every US citizen, every day.

Impact:

The biggest case where Scalia protected citizen's right to privacy was in his majority opinion in the Kyllo v United States case. Scalia wrote the majority opinion in a close 5-4 decision, where he concluded that police were not allowed to peep into homes with thermal-imaging devices. Scalia also wrote the majority opinion in Florida v. Jardines, another 5-4 decision, that barred police from entering private property with a drug-sniffing dog without a warrant. Additionally, in quite possibly his most important case regarding privacy, Scalia sided once again with citizen’s right to privacy. In Riley v California, Scalia voted against the government’s bid to warrantlessly search a modern-day cell phone acquired in the course of an arrest, meaning that Scalia actually set the precedent for all of our modern day cyber privacies that we take for granted.

3. Claim: Scalia’s legal philosophy of strictly following the Constitution influenced the other justices, who eventually came to adopt this philosophy themselves.
Warrant:

Justices started to write their opinions using Scalia’s strict interpretation of the Constitution as justifications for their views.  This clearly shows that Scalia was very respected and influential among his fellow justices.

Impact:

By the time he wrote his most important majority opinion in 2008, finding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, even the dissenters were engaged in trying to determine the original meaning of the Constitution, the approach he had championed.

Sources:

Newsweek

4. Claim: Other justices, lawyers, the media and the general population respected Scalia’s integrity as a jurist, even if they didn’t agree with the outcome of his logic. Even President Obama, a Democrat and liberal, had good things to say about him after his death, calling him a “brilliant legal mind”.
Warrant:

Regardless of how people felt about a particular case, they respected Justice Scalia’s opinions as well-thought out and logical. The New York Times, known as a left-leaning, liberal newspaper, said of Scalia, “He was an exceptional stylist who labored over his opinions and took pleasure in finding precisely the right word or phrase. In dissent, he took no prisoners. The author of a majority opinion could be confident that a Scalia dissent would not overlook any shortcomings. Justice Scalia wrote for a broader audience than most of his colleagues did. His opinions were read by lawyers and civilians for pleasure and instruction.



CON (4 arguments)

Weighing Mechanism: The side that best shows that Justice Scalia’s career did more harm to either the people of this country or to the institution of the Supreme Court should win this debate.  

1. Claim: Scalia hurt the country when he openly discriminated against racial and sexual minority groups, perpetuating the idea that people should not have equal rights in the US.
Warrant:

Scalia made arguments in court that were extremely stereotypical and untrue, only further entrenching the problematic mindset of some bigoted people in our country. Since he was such a well-known figure, his statements didn’t just have implications for a small group of people around him; his judgments were heard by American citizens and people all around the world, and that had large, negative impacts in perpetuating stereotypes. This was also a huge embarrassment for the institution of the Supreme Court.

Impact:

According to the Washington Post, when ruling in a court case, Scalia said, “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." This statement suggests that African-Americans are inherently less intelligent as people of other races, and as someone with such high status in the United States, his statements only further encourage white supremacists and racists to continue discriminating against racial minorities. When discussing the issue of equal rights of gay individuals, Scalia stated, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” Despite America being a place where equality among all is promoted, Scalia described homosexuality as awful as murdering another human being, which only encourages people to continue being homophobic.

2. Claim: Scalia’s supposedly constitutional judgments solely reflected his personal opinions on issues and ultimately hurt the lives of US citizens and set a precedent for unprofessional judging.
Warrant:

Scalia is often described as being a hard constitutionalist who closely followed the text. However, this just is not true. He directly contradicted amendments solely for the purpose of perpetuating his own ideas on these issues, such as gender issues. This ultimately hurt women in the United States because he justified discrimination against them. In addition, this sets a precedent where other judges think it is valid to use one’s own opinions in ruling, which is unprofessional and unjust.

Impact:

Despite the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause clearly stating “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued that this amendment did not protect against discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

Sources:

LA Times

3. Claim: Scalia’s decisions set the precedent for allowing corruption within the US government and in elections.
Impact:

As a Supreme Court justice, Scalia’s decisions will continue to influence future rulings even though he has passed. In a case where a corporation tried to influence the US Secretary of Agriculture by giving him over $6,000 worth of gifts, Scalia wrote the majority opinion that this was not bribery and corruption.  Scalia went on to suggest that using money to influence power through gifts is both inevitable and not troubling. This decision ultimately supported and validated corporations’ use of bribery to convince governmental officials to help them. This ultimately has very harmful effects for the future of the country because allowing governmental officials to receive bribes from corporations means that officials are not working in the interest of United States citizens, as they should, but rather, they are making decisions because of the money they receive from corporations.  The result of this case was the foundation for the more controversial and harmful ruling in Citizens United which ruled that companies should be viewed as people with a right of free speech. The result is that companies can give money freely to political campaigns and influence the outcome of elections. This case was harmful for the country because it substantially weakens corruption laws and allows a handful of billionaires to spend millions of dollars promoting their personal agendas.

Sources:

Salon.com (online news site about U.S. politics and current affairs)

4. Claim: Justice Antonin Scalia is setting a terrible example for young lawyers with a disrespectful, sarcastic and personal tone he has set in the courtroom and in his written opinions.
Warrant:

Scalia's bad attitude, just like his legal theory, negatively affects the profession as a whole and hurts the reputation of the Supreme Court.

Impact:

Justice Scalia’s sometimes withering questioning helped transform what had been a sleepy bench when he arrived into one that Chief Justice Roberts has said has become too active, with the justices interrupting the lawyers and each other. 

Scalia once referred to another Justice’s opinion as "gobbledy-gook" and said his argument was "nonsense." Scalia has long relied on ridicule. In past years he has dismissed his colleagues' decisions as "nothing short of ludicrous" and "beyond absurd," "entirely irrational" and “not passing the most gullible scrutiny." He has called them "preposterous" and "so unsupported in reason and so absurd in application as unlikely to survive." In the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges, which struck down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, Scalia said that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was "as pretentious as its content is egotistic.” In a footnote to the case he likened the majority opinion to the "mystical aphorisms of a fortune cookie."  This is clearly disrespectful to his colleagues and it is vital that the public respect the holdings of the Supreme Court.  Justice Scalia’s crass remarks undermine that respect and thus, his career has done more harm than good.

Sources:

New York Times