My eldest daughter texted me yesterday – “Scalia is dead.”
I must admit I felt nothing ; only ambivalence.
I am not one to celebrate a death; not one to say “good!! No big loss!” I guess I feel what I suppose many British felt on the death of Margaret Thatcher. Many of my readers on the left of the political spectrum were humming “Ding Dong! The witch is dead!.”
Or when Ronald Regan died.
I can’t curse anyone who died of Alzheimer’s.
The right deified Thatcher and St. Ronnie but I didn’t mourn their passing. I didn’t think they did much for humanity. They helped themselves.
I mourned Mario Cuomo or perhaps I was mourning what might have been. He could have been the first Italian American President of the United States. He was an unabashed liberal and proud to be one. His speech to the Democratic Convention was one of the greatest in history and had them screaming to the rafters.
But he wouldn’t run.
And Bill Clinton became President with all that means today. Cuomo became Hamlet on the Hudson.
Today I am thinking about the differences between Antonim Scalia and me.
We were both New York/New Jersey guys, six years apart in age. Both of us were born to immigrant families from southern Italy. Both of us grew up in similar circumstances and undoubtedly would be comfortable sitting in a Little Italy restaurant having a Campari and soda together. We could say the same for Mario.
So why did Antonim become an authoritarian of the first rank, a hand maiden of the crazy right? I didn’t. Mario didn’t.
Why did Scalia not follow in a long line of Italian American anarchists, socialists, syndicalists and leftist / liberals beginning with Carlo Tresca and Luigi Galleani, ending with the outbreak of war with Italy, the assassination of Tresca and the death of Vito Marcantonio in the 1950s?
The difference in our world view is the result of religion.
Antonim attended Xavier High, a Jesuit military academy in New York.
“Classmate and future New York State official William Stern remembered Scalia in his high school days: “This kid was a conservative when he was 17 years old. An archconservative Catholic. He could have been a member of the Curia. He was the top student in the class. He was brilliant, way above everybody else.”
“An arch conservative Catholic”.
Scalia went on to Georgetown and Harvard Law and was eventually appointed by St. Ronnie to the Court. I did not go to Georgetown and Harvard. I went to night school at City University for my B.A. and made a living.
At the time of his death he was still an arch conservative Catholic. A member of Opus Dei (so is Clarence Thomas), He has 9 children.
I am not and never was a good Catholic.
My mother spent her teenage years in a Catholic convent as a “ward of the state” during the 1930s. When she turned 18 she left, high school diploma in hand. She had no job. She had no money. She couldn’t drive. My paternal grandmother took her in off of the streets. Grandma was a red.
And after all those years in a convent my mother never attended a church again.
She insisted that my brothers and I attend public schools. And she insisted we see how the working man lived. Religion had no part in our lives.
Though we both grew up in the Italian American experience, just a few years apart in age and living only a subway ride from each other. we ended up with completely different world views.
On every issue, from gender and racial equality, affirmative action, voting rights, abortion, gay rights, marriage equality, money in politics, the death penalty, the right to own guns, Bush v. Gore, Antonim, for all his brilliance and education, was on the wrong side.
He raged when the Court struck down Texas’ sodomy laws ranting that it would lead to homosexual marriage – marriage equality. And indeed it did to Scalia’s dismay. Still, the sun rose over the Republic.
In an op-ed for The New York Times, federal appeals judge Richard Posner and Georgia State University law professor Eric Segall described as radical Scalia’s positions on cultural issues, in particular homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In their view, Scalia’s positions reflected an apparent belief that the religious stances supposedly held by the majority of US citizens should take precedence over the Constitution in deciding over morality issues. For the authors, that argument characterized Scalia as a theocratic majoritarian.
Scalia opined that it was ok for Oklahoma to execute someone who was 15 years old when the crime was committed, mocking the majority’s claims that a national consensus had emerged against the execution of those who killed while under age, and noted that less than half of the states that permitted the death penalty prohibited it for underage killers. He castigated the majority for including in their count states that had abolished the death penalty entirely.
In 2008, the Court considered a challenge to the gun laws in the District of Columbia. Scalia wrote the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, which found an individual right to own a firearm under the Second Amendment. Scalia traced the word “militia”, found in the Second Amendment, as it would have been understood at the time of its ratification, and stated that it then meant “the body of all citizens”. The Court upheld Heller’s claim to own a firearm in the District.
Scalia’s opinion for the Heller Court was widely criticized by liberals, and applauded by conservatives. However, Seventh Circuit judge Richard Posner disagreed with Scalia’s opinion, stating that the Second Amendment “creates no right to the private possession of guns”. Posner called Scalia’s opinion “faux originalism” and a “historicizing glaze on personal values and policy preferences”.
Justice Scalia’s world view, IMHO, was forged in his youth – it is a world of hierarchy, sin and place, Each one of us has to know our place Antonim could see it in the Constitution and if you could not, you simply did not belong in the same room with him.
His argument against abortion rights is essentially that it isn’t in the Constitution therefore if the nation wants abortion rights they should be legislated and not established by the Court’s “activism” in striking down state laws against abortion. Notwithstanding that the Court has been striking laws it considers unconstitutional since Justice John Marshall.
One could make the same argument against segregation I guess
No one in the the back alleys of our cities, in those mean little houses in the dismal corners of our great land, where that American dream has been long forgotten, where a rusty coal stove sits in the living room, daddy smells of gasoline, momma is unpredictable, and where there is not a single book, none of these human beings was helped by the god like presence of Antonim Scalia.
He will be remembered by his wealthy friends as a nice, pleasant affable witty Italian American but he will not be mourned by the people he might have helped – but didn’t. His passing might have brought about a heart felt flood of grief and tears from the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized -but won’t, He never stood with them. He stood always with power.
He wasn’t dead ten minutes when the pols he slavishly served were talking of his replacement.
His education and brilliance benefitted no one but himself.