BY LYNN EDMONDS
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a seminal conservative voice, was found dead on Saturday morning in Texas, where the 79-year-old had been on a hunting trip. Originally appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, he was the longest-serving justice.
The national figure was a son of Queens, having grown up in an Italian American family in Elmhurst, after moving there with his parents from New Jersey at age six. He attended PS 13.
He wrote a first-person essay in New York Magazine describing his childhood in Elmhurst in 2013.
“We would go sled riding in a cemetery that was known as Dead Man’s Hill. It was pretty much devise your own amusement. I’ve never been a parent to go to all the soccer games and all that, because my parents never came to my street-hockey or pick up softball games; they just said go out and play.”
He went on to describe an Elmhurst where people would leave the doors unlocked and “there was just enough responsibility that was put on young people that any New Yorker would acquire a certain cockiness.”
Scalia was mourned in the borough, though many did disagree strongly with some of the rulings made by the conservative icon.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) broke across party barriers to give a statement on Scalia.
“This is sad news indeed. While I disagreed with him on so many issues, Justice Scalia was a brilliant man with a probing mind. He was a great son of Queens with a genuine joy for life,” Schumer said.
Alex Blenkinsopp, of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, was one of the first community leaders in Queens to speak publicly about his death.
“Love his views or hate them, justice Antonin Scalia was a brilliant jurist. He was a Queens native whose legacy will endures for decades,” Blenkinsopp wrote in a tweet.
The Conservative Party of New York State also mourned the justice.
“His wisdom and wit will be sorely missed. The world has lost a man who truly understood and fought for the America dream for every American and every person who sought to be American.”
The justice was known for his intellectual rigor and sharp dissenting opinions. His rulings and view points tended to be beloved by conservatives and bemoaned by liberals, though the justice said that he was guided not by his own political beliefs but by a desire to stick to a literal interpretation of the Constitution.
His ideological guidepost was “Originalism,” meaning that he saw the Constitution – as it would have been understood by people at the time it was written – as the basis of his rulings. He scoffed at notions of a “living” Constitution that evolved according to the values of the times, saying that such a thing was too arbitrary and would place too much power in the hands of the justices.
He was also considered a “textualist,” meaning that he did not want to use secondary sources like bill drafts and notes from the House or Senate floor in order to help him interpret the law, but rather stick exclusively to the text of the law itself.
Scalia was known for rulings against abortion and gay marriage, and in support of the right to bear arms. In the infamous Bush v. Gore case in 2000, he also demanded that workers stop re-counting the votes and accept Bush as the winner.
Fiery and controversial, Scalia was generally eager to partake in intellectual sparring in the public sphere with those who had different views that his own. He was close friends with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginzburg. Across the ideological spectrum, people agreed that he was an intellectual giant.
But some also said that he talked too much on the bench and destroyed the solemn, respectfully process of the court by creating a culture of snappy interrupting. His critics also said that despite the big to-do that he made about objectivity, his textualism and originalism often aligned with his conservative values.
Now a partisan battle has already begun over who the new Supreme Court justice will be. Constitutionally, President Barack Obama must choose a nominee, whom the Senate can confirm or reject. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the selection of a new justice should be postponed until the new president comes into office, a stance Democrats have strongly disagreed with, calling the proposal “unprecedented” and “shameful.”
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana