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Supreme Court Justices

Antonin Scalia (1936- )

Antonin ("Nino") Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey on March 11, 1936, the only child of Eugene and Catherine (Panaro) Scalia. Eugene Scalia emigrated from Sicily and taught Romance languages at Brooklyn College. Scalia was educated at both public and Catholic schools during his childhood. He attended Georgetown University, graduating valedictorian in 1957. He also attended the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) as an undergraduate. After graduating college, Scalia attended Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude. He was also an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation, Scalia received a Sheldon Fellowship, through which he was able to travel to Europe. In 1961, Scalia began work as an associate in the Cleveland law firm of Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue. He remained there until 1967, when he accepted an offer to teach at the University of Virginia Law School. In 1971, he joined the Nixon administration. He remained a member of the executive branch until the end of Gerald Ford's presidency in January 1977. He then taught at the University of Chicago Law School.

In 1982, Scalia was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Four years later, after the retirement of Chief Justice Warren Burger, Reagan nominated Associate Justice William Rehnquist to replace Burger, and Scalia to take Rehnquist's seat. Rehnquist's nomination was quite contentious, but although considered just as conservative as Rehnquist, Scalia's nomination sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate, winning confirmation by a vote of 98-0. Scalia is the first Italian-American to serve on the Court.

Since joining the Court, Scalia has been outspoken about limiting the Court's discretion to "find" rights implied from its text, particularly the right to privacy. In criminal procedure cases, Scalia is not conservative in a political sense. He wrote the Court's opinion declaring unconstitutional the use of infrared heat sensors to determine whether marijuana was being grown in enclosed houses. Scalia held this effort violated the search and seizure provision of the 4th amendment. Scalia also strongly supports claims by defendants that they have been denied a right to confront witnesses against them. In free speech cases, Scalia may be considered something of a liberal, although that type of label has relatively little resonance in this area of law today. He has written several opinions protecting free speech claims against state laws. He agreed that flag burning as a sign of political protest is protected by the first amendment, and wrote the majority's opinion declaring unconstitutional limitations of speech on judicial candidates for office. He has revived a muscular takings jurisprudence, and has been part of a majority that has created judicial boundaries to federal laws passed pursuant to power granted by the commerce clause and the 14th amendment. Both of these efforts had fallen out of favor in the Court since the constitutional crisis of 1937. Scalia favors judicial interpretation wedded to the text of the Constitution, going so far as to consult dictionaries of the time to ascertain the meaning of the text. His "originalist" view of interpretation does not equate to a strong belief in judicial restraint. His has stated his views on interpretation, and on interpretation of the Constitution in a book titled A Matter of Interpretation (Princeton University Press). 

During oral argument, Scalia is noted for his sarcastic, witty, intellectually demanding and occasionally biting comments and questions. He loves the cut and thrust of debate. He is both a colorful and incisive writer of opinions, and one whose candid and rhetorically combative statements may offend others, including his fellow Justices of all political persuasions. He is very intelligent and very opinionated, a combination that soothes those who agree with his views and which is troublesome to those who disagree with his views.  

Scalia married Maureen McCarthy in 1960. They met while he was a student at Harvard Law School and she was a student at Radcliffe. He is a lifelong practicing Roman Catholic. They are the parents of nine children.

Further reading: Richard A. Brisbin, Jr., Justice Antonin Scalia and the Conservative Revival