A Great Legal Voice Stilled

newburgh lake, michigan

Once I  had the chance to talk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who passed away yesterday.  I was in law school in Detroit , and he gave a talk on the Constitution at the nearby University of  Michigan.  Justice Scalia’s presentation proved to be  insightful, as I had expected.  After finishing, he took questions from the audience.  The first questioner gave a diatribe against  Scalia’s views.  The guy went on and on, and eventually voices from the audience called out,  What’s the question?  Scalia smiled and said mildy, “His question is:  don’t you agree with everything I’ve just said.”  Laughter rippled through the crowd, and the “questioner” looked sheepish.

I was next in the queue and asked Scalia a question about a legal doctrine that has been in the news since the Flint, Michigan lead-in-the- water debacle: sovereign immunity. (In the United States, you usually cannot sue the government)  Scalia answered, but then I had something to add, and he politely answered me again.  I’ve thought about that exchange today, and realized that Scalia was more right than I was–no surprise, really, considering the disparity in our experiences.

I think that Justice Scalia’s passing is a great loss to the United States.   Judicial conservatism will miss  his articulate voice.  The Supreme Court has lost the most powerful legal mind of the last 25 years, in my opinion.   I often disagreed with Justice Scalia–maybe usually–but I also learned a great deal from reading his opinions, which are  lessons in how to reason.

As the Bard asked, When comes such another?  I think we may have to wait some time.

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