Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away Feb. 13 in Texas at 79, was known for championing the legal theory of originalism and for a vivid writing style that could verge on the insulting, according to The New York Times.
These two trademarks of his personality often converged on social issues he was passionate about, including abortion, and he was famous for his blistering dissents on the topic over the years.
His death comes at a time when some had thought the pendulum of jurisprudence could begin swinging in his direction with numerous state laws restricting abortion wending their way to the top court, but the fate of such restrictions is now more uncertain, NPR reported, galvanizing activists on both sides of the issue.
One important abortion case — the biggest in a decade, according to NPR — will be heard next month regarding restrictions to abortion laws in Texas. While Scalia's absence is not likely to affect the outcome (the restrictions are expected to be upheld), it could prevent the decision from being regarded as precedent by resulting in a tie rather than a majority decision, NPR reported.
Scalia was a Catholic, but he insisted his religion did not play a role in his jurisprudence, according to The Times. He was "deeply offended" when Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, suggested in an op-ed that all five Catholic justices had bowed to their religion in Gonzales v. Carhart, a 2007 case about partial-birth abortion.
"Justice Scalia was furious, telling (his biographer) that 'it got me so mad that I will not appear at the University of Chicago until he is no longer on the faculty,'" The Times reported.
That question is off the table now, but Scalia's remarks remain, including these five quotes about abortion that illustrate both his dedication to the concept of originalism and his signature, piercing wit.
1. Scalia's dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart, 2000:
"I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court’s jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott. The method of killing a human child — one cannot even accurately say an entirely unborn human child — proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion. ...
"It is a value judgment, dependent upon how much one respects (or believes society ought to respect) the life of a partially delivered fetus, and how much one respects (or believes society ought to respect) the freedom of the woman who gave it life to kill it. Evidently, the five Justices in today’s majority value the former less, or the latter more, (or both), than the four of us in dissent. Case closed."
2. Scalia's concurrence in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 1989:
"We can now look forward to at least another Term with carts full of mail from the public, and streets full of demonstrators, urging us — their unelected and life-tenured judges who have been awarded those extraordinary, undemocratic characteristics precisely in order that we might follow the law despite the popular will — to follow the popular will. ...
"It thus appears that the mansion of constitutionalized abortion law, constructed overnight in Roe v. Wade, must be disassembled doorjamb by doorjamb, and never entirely brought down, no matter how wrong it may be."
3. Scalia's partial concurrence in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992:
"The States may, if they wish, permit abortion on demand, but the Constitution does not require them to do so. The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting. ...
"Roe fanned into life an issue that has inflamed our national politics in general, and has obscured with its smoke the selection of Justices to this Court in particular, ever since. And by keeping us in the abortion umpiring business, it is the perpetuation of that disruption, rather than of any pax Roeana, that the Court's new majority decrees."
4. Scalia's remarks at the Mississippi College School of Law in 2010 about the selective use of international law as precedent:
"I will become a believer in the ingenuousness, though never the propriety, of the Court’s newfound respect for the wisdom of foreign minds when it applies that wisdom in the abortion cases."
5. Scalia's speech at the University of Richmond in 2010:
“But some of the liberties the Supreme Court has found to be protected by that word— liberty — nobody thought constituted a liberty when the 14th Amendment was adopted. Abortion? It was criminal in all the states.”