Oh, how I loathed Antonin Scalia. The conservative jurist, who died yesterday at age 79, was the face of a vicious and hyper-partisan judicial voice that advocated for some of the most heinous points of view of our time. He supported criminalizing gay behavior because it upset some people. He opined that the 14th Amendment's language about "equal protection under the law" did not extend to same-sex marriage. He argued for Citizens United, which is pouring megatons of corporate dollars into our political process under the guise of free speech. He was part of the majority that struck down the District of Columbia's attempts to impose limits on the ownership of personally-owned guns. He helped to gut the Voting Rights Act. And, damningly in a democratic society, he personally intervened in the 2000 presidential election, effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush, a party ally. It could be argued that Scalia was thereby responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the deaths of tens of thousands in an unnecessary war in Iraq, the Great Recession and America becoming a torture state.
The fact that Scalia was Roman Catholic just deepens my resentment. For when he was not advancing the cause of his party -- broadening the scope of the Second Amendment, giving corporations the status of citizens -- he brazenly represented the positions of his church on abortion and gay marriage. It seems the only thing he didn't represent was the Constitution and the law.
As I said, I loathed Scalia. I loathed his positions and I loathed the way he ridiculed his opponents. He of "jiggery-pokey," "argle-bargle" and "pure applesauce" fame. It was not enough that he disagreed with his esteemed colleagues on the Court, he had to demean them and ridicule their considered opinions. To my mind, his only redeeming features were his ability to be a friendly in person (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and said to be close friends) and his apparent sense of humor. Stephen Colbert, in his famous White House Correspondents Dinner speech in 2006, lampooned Scalia's reported obscene "Sicilian gesture," much to the amusement of the justice.
How do you solve a problem like Scalia?
I confess that the news of his death delighted me -- and on several different levels. Karmically, it seemed that he got what he deserved, though to die at age 79 is not much of a penalty to one's length of days. There was also relief that President Obama would have the chance to replace an extreme Republican zealot with someone more moderate. There was hope that our nation might be able to realign its policies with a more reasonable interpretation of the Constitution and the evolving sensibilities of its citizens. It can never do, for instance, in a modern context, to be too bothered about what our Founders might have thought about women's rights or the morality of homosexuality. As a Constitutional fundamentalist, Scalia might have given those considerations some weight. Lord save us.
Yet, Scalia was a man. And it was a man who died yesterday. A man who had a wife and children and grandchildren. A man who had nurtured many legal interns. A man who had friends and had forged close relationships. A man who had spoken to tens of thousands in speeches and appearances. He is a man whose death shocked and troubled many. He will likely lay in state in the Capitol's rotunda, where he may well be honored by many, ordinary passing mourners. He will be honored with speeches, encomia and editorials -- by those who loved him and even by those who despised him. He will have chairs named after him at prestigious universities, where his bust or portrait will grace long, granite-paneled hallways. Eventually, he will fade from public memory, as have many fabled jurists before him.
He will, in short, suffer the fate of many. To be slowly forgotten and supplanted by those who follow. Dust to dust, and all of that.
But for today, his deeds are too fresh, the wounds he inflicted too raw. His baleful impact on our nation is too great to dismiss just yet. It will take years, decades, for future courts and legislatures to undo the damage he has done. He has, or wished to, set back significantly the lawful exercise of America's citizens. He has shoved us back down the mountain path of painfully gained human progress, a path we will have to climb again. And climb it we will, for human progress is as inevitable as taxes. And death.
I admit to rejoicing in Scalia's death. Not that I wish to add to his family's pain, but because I am glad to bring an end to my country's pain. I am glad to be rid of a malign force that used its brilliance, acuity and education in the service of elitism, wealth and bigotry. I am not proud of my hatred of Scalia or my reaction to his death. But neither will I cover it over with platitudes, pieties and a pretense of sadness.
Only after the serpent's fangs have been removed from my arm, its venom neutralized and the damaged flesh healed and rehabilitated will I admire the beast's lustrous colors, its accuracy, cunning and speed.