“A man who has made no enemies is probably not a very good man.”
~ Justice Antonin Scalia
Antonin Gregory Scalia was born on March 11, 1936 in Trenton, New Jersey to Salvatore Scalia and Catherine Panaro. He was an only child who carried the hopes and dreams of his immigrant parents and grandparents. He was an excellent student having graduated valedictorian from Xavier High School. He continued his education earning his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and his law degree from Harvard Law School. After a distinguished law career, President Reagan nominated Judge Scalia to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Chief Justice Warren Burger. Justice Scalia was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 1986.
Since 1986, Justice Scalia’s big personality and firm convictions made him the “leader of the conservative intellectual renaissance.” He “was a champion of originalism, the theory of constitutional interpretation that seeks to apply the understanding of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution.” Justice Scalia was more than just a man in a black robe with conservative views. He embodied three important leadership characteristics.
- Playfulness: Oftentimes, humor and sarcasm are avoided by individuals in leadership positions. Humor can be misinterpreted as a lack of interest or caring; however, humor can also bring people together. Justice Scalia used humor and sarcasm to communicate his opinions and illustrate points, as can be read in many of his dissents. He never shied away from using humor when debating tough issues whether in or outside of the court room setting. He used humor to remind others that he was human too. Despite his position, he too struggled and was challenged by the very same issues that were presented to him during his tenure on the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia used his personality to connect with people.
- Principles: Everyone develops personal principles and opinions, some stronger than others. Justice Scalia was no different. His personal life and professional experience shaped his perspective of the world. He approached his responsibilities with the courage of his convictions regardless of who was in agreement. While he was firm in his beliefs, he sought out opportunities to debate controversial topics both professionally and personally. He did not just align himself with those who shared his convictions, but sought out people who disagreed with him to engage in discussions. One of his closest friends on the U.S. Supreme Court was Justice Bader-Ginsburg. They were near polar opposites and rarely agreed with each other, but neither of these issues kept them from forming a lasting friendship. Justice Scalia used his principles to understand people.
- Passion: Some people view position and power as an end-point in their career. It signals to many that they have arrived. Justice Scalia continued to speak at universities and conferences to give back to the legal profession in which he devoted his life. He spoke about his legal philosophy and the Constitution that he was sworn to uphold. He documented his opinions in his dissents and was meticulous in choosing the right word or phrase to best communicate each legal point. He took pride in writing his majority opinions and dissents to avoid ambiguity, but adhere to the intent of the law. Justice Scalia used his passion to serve people.
Leadership is a big responsibility. It requires caring for people. For Justice Scalia, he was tasked with carrying out justice and upholding the law to the best of his ability. He took his role seriously. He immersed himself in studying, debating, and interpreting the law. He was not focused on self-interest, but on serving people. Justice Scalia brought humor to tough situations, relied on principles to guide his decisions, and left a legacy rooted in his passion for his country and the freedoms our laws provide. Most of all, Justice Scalia demonstrated his devotion to people regardless of opinion, political party, or religion. Justice Scalia will be missed, but his lesson in putting people first should never be forgotten.