2016 2016: Faculty reaction to passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

2016 2016: Faculty reaction to passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Faculty reaction to passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Law and Political Science faculty offer their reaction to the passing of Justice Scalia

Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a leading on the high court, has died at the age of 79.

UMass Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek:

Justice Scalia, who was universally viewed as the most conservative member of the Court, served for almost thirty years.  I believe this is the first time in many years that a Justice died so unexpectedly.  His passing is especially significant at a time when as many as a quarter of the Court's decisions each year are decided by a vote of 5-4.  Scalia's passing has other significant effects:  (1) President Obama gets to make another appointment (although there will almost certainly be Republican resistance in the form of refusal to hold confirmation hearings), (2) because of the number of split decisions, this appointment is especially significant, (3) decisions in pending cases now might end in a tied vote, which means that the lower court opinion is affirmed without precedential effect.

About Mary Lu Bilek

Assistant Professor of Law Jeremiah Ho:

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Scalia's writings at the Supreme Court were very colorful and masterfully written. If you read carefully his dissents in the pro-gay rights opinions, he predicted the incremental path that the Court would eventually take to extend marriage to same-sex couples--even through the unapproving lens of originalism.  His personality and wit at the Court will be unmatched for a very long time.

About Jeremiah Ho

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Professor of Law and Professor of Law Eric Mitnick:

Justice Scalia's impact not just on the law, but on how judges should go about determining what the law is, was and remains enormous.  In particular, his approach to constitutional interpretation, his emphasis on the role of history and the importance of the original understanding of the constitutional text, has and will continue to influence American jurisprudence for a long time to come.

Most critically for the present Supreme Court term, Justice Scalia's absence may very well alter the outcome in some of the most politically charged cases.  With five right-leaning and four left-leaning justices, many were anticipating 5-4 decisions to, for example, overrule circuit court cases that upheld affirmative action and the right of public unions to charge their members agency fees.  If those decisions end up 4-4, the lower court decisions will stand, and affirmative action in university admissions and public union agency fees will be permitted continue.

About Eric Mitnick

Political Science Professor Kenneth Manning:

Antonin Scalia was regarded as the intellectual leader of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court for decades. His appointment to the Court was considered one of the greatest victories of the Reagan administration, and he was beloved in conservative circles for his intelligence, wittiness, and unflinching views. He was not without controversy, however. His acerbic opinions at times alienated some colleagues and made it more difficult for conservatives to assemble the votes to win. And his thinly veiled bias against gays and lesbians in cases such as Bowers v. Hardwick and Lawrence v. Texas will be a lasting stain upon his legacy. Still, there's no question that Scalia will be considered among the most influential justices of the past 100 years.

About Kenneth Manning

Professor of Law and Director of UMass Law’s Immigration Law Clinic Irene Scharf:

It's interesting that, regardless of his conservative bona fides, Justice Scalia's "best friend" on the court was Justice Ginsburg, one of the more liberal Justices.  The two, and their spouses, apparently socialized regularly.   As a law professor who works with students on a daily basis, I hope this aspect of Justice Scalia can provide a lesson to students and us all. This friendship of opposites demonstrates that a person's humanity is measured by far more than the sum of one's political views.

About Irene Scharf


For a Q&A with UMass Law Professor Richard Peltz-Steele on the legacy of Justice Scalia and the furture fo the Court, click here.