Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court Career Did More Good Than Harm
PRO (4 arguments)
“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.
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.
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.”
New York Times
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.