By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Tributes to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia poured in almost as soon as news emerged of his Feb. 13 death at a Texas ranch while on a hunting trip.
Scalia “was routinely described as a conservative, and so he was. He held fast to a lot of traditional values. He loved his church, his wife and nine children, and his country. He favored small government over big, and local over national,” said a Feb. 14 column by Catholic University of America president John Garvey written for Catholic News Service. “But as a judge he was a democrat, not a conservative, and his death diminishes by one strong voice our commitment to constitutional democracy.”
Scalia’s body is scheduled to lie in repose Feb. 19 at the Supreme Court, with a funeral Mass to be celebrated Feb. 20 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The day of repose and the funeral will be open to the public.The wake and burial will be private.
“Justice Scalia was arguably the most consequential Catholic in American public life since the death of John F. Kennedy,” said Villanova University law professor Michael Moreland, a former domestic policy adviser to President George W. Bush, in a Feb. 15 statement. “Justice Scalia remarked once during a visit to Villanova that there is no such thing as a ‘Catholic judge’ just as there is no such thing as a Catholic way to cook a hamburger,” Moreland added.
“But, in his commitment to textualism, penetrating prose style, and aspects of his jurisprudence, there are marks of his Jesuit education and lifelong Catholic faith. While Justice Scalia thought contentious social and moral questions were best left to the political process and not to the judiciary, he increasingly came to worry about the state of the legal culture in ways that were inevitably informed by his Catholicism.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who represents the Trenton-area district where Scalia was born, said in a Feb. 15 statement that Scalia was “an extraordinary man of deep faith, great intellect and with — who wrote complex legal analysis with a strength and clarity that will leave an enduring mark on American jurisprudence.
Smith added, “His commitment to the Constitution, as written and not as interpreted, and to the separation of powers among the three branches of government, led to Justice Scalia’s ongoing concern about actions by the Supreme Court which he deemed ‘legislating from the bench’ and which he vehemently opposed with his persuasive arguments and votes. A truly gifted writer, he offered articulate, consistent and persuasive opinions on the important issues of our time.”
“Justice Scalia had a profound understanding of how our government — and in particular the Supreme Court — is supposed to work,” said Priests for Life founder Father Frank Pavone in a Feb. 13 statement. “He did not want the court to create public policy, whether it was policy he agreed with or not. He urged people to use the political and legislative process to bring about change.”
A challenge to the federal Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act — to which Priests for Life is a party — is one of several cases scheduled to be heard in March by the now-eight-member high court.
Calling Scalia “very witty and funny,” Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore dwelt more on his legal mind. “Whether one agrees or not with his juridical approach, he was a brilliant jurist. I think that even those who disagreed with him widely appreciated him and he took positions that were widely appreciated within the church.”
The archbishop also took note of the vacancy on the bench, given the upcoming hearing on the HHS mandate. “There’s no doubt that (Scalia’s) death introduces instability in the court and that instability is a source of concern,” he said.
“The community of Thomas Aquinas is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia,” said a Feb. 13 statement from Michael F. McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. “A faithful Catholic, a patriot and a brilliant jurist, Justice Scalia will long be remembered for his fidelity to the Constitution of the United States,” McLean added, calling his death “an enormous loss for our country.”
The head of the National Religious Broadcasters, Jerry Johnson, issued a Feb. 14 statement mourning Scalia’s passing.
“Justice Scalia was a man of honor and unwavering resolve in his commitment to support and defend the U.S. Constitution,” Johnson said. “My heart and prayers are with his family, and I mourn with my countrymen at the passing of this vigilant watchman over the fundamental principles and freedoms of our American republic.”
At the court, in keeping with tradition, Scalia’s bench chair and the bench directly in front of it have been draped with black wool crepe in his memory. There also is a black drape hanging over the courtroom doors. According to a Supreme Court news release, the tradition dates back at least as far as 1873 when Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase died.
President Barack Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the high court and other federal buildings throughout the country, as well as at U.S. embassies and military installations throughout the world.
Scalia’s current and past colleagues on the Supreme Court each issued separate statements.
“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” said a Feb. 13 statement by Chief Justice John Roberts. “His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he so loyally served.”
“His insistence on demanding standards shaped the work of the court in its private discussions, its oral arguments, and its written opinions,” said a Feb. 14 statement by Justice Anthony Kennedy. “Yet these historic achievements are all the more impressive and compelling because the foundations of Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence, the driving force in all his work, and his powerful personality were shaped by an unyielding commitment to the Constitution of the United States and to the highest ethical and moral standards.”
“My colleague Nino Scalia was devoted to his family, friends, our court and our country. He left an indelible mark on our history,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “I will miss him and the dimming of his special light is a great loss for me.”
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Contributing to this story was Christopher Gunty in Baltimore.
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