Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scalia was a strange character

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died yesterday. He's been an outspoken force on the Court for as long as I've been interested in the law (late high school/early college) and most everyone who is somehow in the legal world has an opinion of him. Many people not in the legal world do, too.

Scalia was an interesting character in the Court. Oftentimes, I found myself frustrated & disgusted with things he said or wrote. He was a phenomenal writer, even when I wanted to scream bc I disagreed with him so strongly. But I was often at odds with his position on issues & I never counted him among my favorite justices (yes, I have favorites...RBG, I'm looking at you). His social views were appalling to me & I found much of his opinions lacking in any sense of empathy or feeling.

That being said, I cannot deny that some of the most important decisions in the realm of criminal law have been from Scalia. Before Scalia, the Confrontation Clause was essentially meaningless. The Confrontation Clause is the part of the Constitution that says if you're accused of a crime, you have the right to face your accusers in court & make them answer questions. In the past, it was permissible for hearsay statements to come in as evidence against a defendant if the judge determined the statements were reliable. No live testimony needed, just a submission of the statements. Scalia wrote the Crawford decision, which ended that practice. If someone is accusing you, you have the right to make them do so under oath & subject to cross-exam. The importance of Crawford can't be overstated. It changed the way trials & courts operated in a major way.

Scalia is also the reason that an actual scientist/lab person now has to come into court & testify about their results, rather than just submitting a report & calling it good.

Scalia was also a staunch supporter of the 4th Amendment & had a hearty distrust of the State as an actor bc the Founders had that same distrust. He often reminded the judiciary that judges are part of the State & that's why a jury is so important, bc they are NOT agents of the government. He wrote a brilliant dissent in Maryland v. King about the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for crimes but not convicted, in which he skewered the majority for trusting that the government would keep its word & limit the use of such DNA.

Scalia was a justice that I often felt was lacking in compassion & mercy, that was too hard-lined for my taste, and whose social views I absolutely hated. But I cannot completely vilify the man bc he also was a champion of the 4th Amendment & the Confrontation Clause, which are extremely significant legal areas.

I hope that whoever replaces him upholds the good things Scalia brought to the Court while also doing better in areas that Scalia was lacking.

1 comment:

  1. Social media has been brutal with the memes and criticisms of him. Like geesh, he just passed away. But I agree with your views on his rulings. I'm interested in seeing what turn of event happens next....