A Great Catholic American: Justice Scalia, RIP


There were plenty of shameful celebrations when Justice Scalia died.

Brietbart quoted some of them: The sports editor at “Vocativ,” Tomás Ríos, tweeted out that “Scalia was a monster and no one’s job entitles them to respect.” Charles Manning, Senior Style Editor for Cosmopolitan.com, tweeted: “The devil is back in Hell! Yay!”

HotAir.com  quoted a Foreign Policy magazine opinion piece that said, “Prepare yourself for pious proclamations of sorrow. …. The global legal and judicial communities, however, will mostly be indulging in joyful private choruses of ‘Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.’ Or maybe not so private.”

This is sad and wrong. Not only is Scalia due respect for being a human being — there is much to praise in his record for anyone who cares to look objectively at what he did and who he was.

Not an Ideologue

If you read anyone who treats Scalia as an ideological conservative scoring points for his “side” of a power struggle, you can be sure you are reading someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.

At Slate magazine, Mark Joseph Stern said that many “progressive” commentators “overlook the remarkable nuance and complexity of his jurisprudence,” and listed a number of Scalia cases to make his point:

“Scalia cast a decisive vote in the most important free speech case of the 1980s, Texas v. Johnson, which held that flag burning qualified as constitutionally protected expression. He wrote the landmark majority opinion in 2011’s Brown v. EMA, a double victory for First Amendment advocates that protected both depictions of violence and minors’ rights. And he dissented in Maryland v. King, arguing that the Fourth Amendment forbids law enforcement from collecting DNA from arrestees. (His fierce dissent sounds like it could have sprung from the pen of Edward Snowden.)”

1024px-Antonin_Scalia_2010He also admired Scalia’s personal combative style, saying, “Scalia was the justice you either loved or hated, relentlessly opinionated, representative of everything that was right or wrong with the Supreme Court. He was witty, unpredictable, caustic, indignant, and brilliant.”

Scalia’s incisive thinking has been recognized again and again. For one, there is the spate of “Scalia the prophet” articles.

“Scalia predicts the future, once again, in gay-marriage dissent,” wrote Debra Cassens Wiss in the American Bar Association Journal. She pointed out that when the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws, Scalia called it “a massive disruption of the current social order” and warned that, after that decision, “what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples?”

None, it turned out.

He did the same thing in his dissent when the court overturned parts of the the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013. Sam Baker in the National Journal quoted Scalia’s dissent:

“By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency,” wrote Scalia, “the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”

A year later, Baker pointed out:

“State bans on same-sex marriage are falling like dominoes in the courts — just as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia predicted.” Adding that Scalia “probably hates it. But he did call it”

Scalia’s America

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during the 2009 annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Scalia, 79, was found dead of apparent natural causes at a resort in West Texas Feb. 13. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See OBIT-SCALIA Feb. 13, 2016.

2009 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

But I think the best reason to celebrate Scalia’s life and mourn his death was his vision of America, and how he lived that vision. In a 2010 commencement address at Langley High School, where his granddaughter was graduating, Scalia humorously debunked many commencement address clichés. One was the phrase, “The United States is the greatest country in the world.”

“Now, I do not intend to contradict that platitude, because I think it to be true,” he said. “What I would like to explore with you a little bit, what it is we mean when we say we believe it.”

After eliminating several possible meanings — neither beauty, power, nor freedom make us great — he settled on virtue:

“Not only is it not true that we are the greatest because we are the freest, rather precisely the opposite is true,” he said. “We are the freest because we have those qualities that make us the greatest. For freedom is a luxury that can be afforded only by the good society. When civic virtue diminishes, freedom will inevitably diminish as well.”

Since civic virtue is best provided by religion — as George Washington put it, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports” — then that’s another way of saying that our religious heritage is what makes America great.

Justice Scalia was himself an exemplar of that greatness. I have known many fellow parishioners of his who attest to him as a good Catholic and a good dad (… of nine kids. “Being a devout Catholic means you have children when God gives them to you,” he told his biographer) — and I have met his son, who is a wonderful priest.

But a tribute by Jeffery Tucker, Justice Scalia’s Great Heart, is higher praise than I have heard elsewhere. “Now that he is gone from this earth, I can tell a story I’ve held inside for many years, a scene that touched me deeply and profoundly,” he wrote.

He recalled one morning when he saw Justice Scalia in a pew at a D.C. church being approached by a disturbed-looking woman who had sores all over her face and hands:

“He took her hands, though they were full of sores. She leaned in to say something, and she began to cry. He held her face next to his, and she talked beneath her tears that were now streaming down his suit. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t try to get away. He just held her while she spoke. This lasted for perhaps more than 5 minutes. He closed his eyes while she spoke, gripping her back with his hand. He didn’t recoil. He stood there with conviction. And love.”

In the end, he shared some words with her and gave her some money.

“I stood there in awe,” wrote Tucker. “What I saw that day was a humble man, a compassionate man, a man who believed in the power of personal contact. This was the action of a man of true principle and character. In that action, he sought no credit and sought no attention. He was merely doing a humane and beautiful thing.”

At the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College, we are calling for prayers for Scalia, and also for the Little Sisters of the Poor, in the wake of his death. God bless Justice Scalia, and God grant us the America he argued and worked for so hard all his life.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.


  1. I have the pleasure of working as a teacher with mostly Black (and a few Latino) students in Chicago. My students are disturbed by articles like the one Mr. Hoopes has written lauding Antonin Scalia. Just a few short months ago, Mr. Scalia declared that Black students don’t necessarily belong at top colleges and universities, and may be better served by attending, in his own words, less advanced schools, slower track schools where “they” do well.

    I have prayed for his soul’s repose. I will not celebrate the America he fought for. The America he fought for is a slap in the face to the teens in my classes.

    • He is utterly correct. Let me explain.

      Many black students come from inner city elementary schools and highschools, which do not educate them adequately. They enter the college world perfectly capable, due to their intelligence, of succeeding in the secondary education environment… but sadly deficient in basic skills!

      On top of that, they are very strongly encouraged to join big Ivy League schools, which extend free tuition to them merely because they are black. These people are more interested in skin color and fake accolades than the people they are dealing with, and the dropout rate is horribly high among black college students as a result.

      I attended a local community-technical college. They had a lot of excellent programs teaching students how to study, how to write papers… the kinds of things that inner city highschools often don’t teach anymore. A student could gradate with an associate’s degree and go on to some of the highest schools in the country, fully fit for the advanced education, and NOT DROP OUT.

      So if you like black dropouts, by all means, hate Scalia for wanting them to have the chance to learn how to study before tossing them into universities where those who cannot study are already doomed to fail.

      • Thank you for that excellent explanation of Justice Scalia’s comments. Justin and his students are victims of tendentious reporting and (deliberately) misleading headlines.

        • “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

          “”I’m just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer [blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.”

          That’s what Scalia said.

          His point in the first part was in service to how black students might do better vs. doing worse at the post-secondary level. The second was a comment on the intrinsic value of filling in an admissions box with an arbitrary figure.

          Which of these caused pain to your students?

          • Again, that’s not what he said. He didn’t say Black students might do better or worse. Literally. That quote does not exist. You inserted the word “might” and “better or worse” on your own.

            Why is this so hard?

      • That’s not what Scalia said. He didn’t say “some” or “most” or “particular Black students.”

        There’s great irony in celebrating a strict constructionist, and then changing the words that he spoke and inserting all sorts of meanings to them.

        • UT Austin has a 39% acceptance rate for applicants. Pretty selective.

          What is the graduation rate for your school as it pertains to the black students, and what is the rate of same who go on to college?

        • It would be helpful, but by no means conclusive for you to provide a quote, Justin (and your source, so we can also check it). Even in today’s world however, it is not uncommon to be misquoted, especially by sources who disagree with you.

          • Scalia, quoted:


            Used that source so no one accuses of anyone massaging the quotes from a right-handed bias.

            “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
            “”I’m just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer [blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.”

  2. Justin; Many white people don’t “belong” at those colleges either. I know that I would NOT have merited a place there, due to my poor study skills, but I did do well at a “lesser” community college. Having said that, the article makes a good point, in that the anonymity provided by the internet allows for so much unnecessary nastiness directed at folks whom we might not treat that way if they were in front of us. (Maybe some would, unfortunately, as some people seem to revel in vocal ugliness)! At any rate, “Treat others as you’d like to be treated” is what I’m getting at, and when someone dies, it’s just downright wrong to disparage them as a human being because you don’t agree with their politics. Many a popular entertainer has died, people who’s lifestyle I personally found deplorable, but I won’t disparage their memory. Instead, I pray for the eternal well-being of their souls, and comfort for those who loved them. Thank you, Tom Hoopes, for this good article. Peace to all.

  3. I am deeply saddened by the loss of this great man; an excellent justice, a virtuous man, an obedient Catholic, and ardent interpreter and protector of our Constitution. He wasn’t interested in being popular; rather, he applied the law, which is not what certain liberal justices are doing — they are choosing ideology over the law, and our nation’s culture is suffering for it. I would prefer to have nine justices who are not concerned with what the people feel like doing but, rather, what is just and lawful according to our Constitution. He will be deeply missed by many of us who relish the truth, and not the popular, secular trend of the time. I am sure that the Lord is pleased with His servant; I pray that his family will gain a lot of peace in the days to come. They were very blessed to be in his camp.

  4. The man was a true public servant who dedicated his life to what he believed to be appropriate application of constitutional law. He did this while being true to his faith and in the best interedts of his fellow Americans. He was very thoughtful and struck a very good balance not a easy burden in modern timed. May the man rest in peace.

  5. Was his prediction of a “massive disruption of the current social order” due to the SCOTUS rejection of Texas sodomy laws truly revealing of some horrible condition in American Society? I think not. In truth that comment is really more of a dogwhistle to those, like Scalia, who are homophobic and cannot imagine that a gay couple could possibly fall in love and seek marriage. Perhaps we should acknowledge that the social order has experienced a massive revelation that gay couples do exist, do raise children, do, now, marry, do seek the American Dream just as all others do and do contribute hugely to the betterment of this nation. No, Scalia was not correct in his prediction because he was blinded by his own bigotry despite his brilliance and his position on SCOTUS.

    • I believe your characterization is off. He did not seem afraid of homosexuality, but was consistent that natural law and our history had reached relevant conclusions about elevating disordered behavior. And again, I believe he imagined gay affection and marriage easily: He was merely opposed to that as a vision of the good. Children…. should not be deprived of their own parents, short of tragedy.

      • You see Terri, your homophobia and bigotry matches Scalia. Of course you would disagree with my analysis. Terms such as “natural law”, “elevating disordered behavior” and that “gay affection (gay) marriage”….should be “opposed as a vision of good”, is more revealing of your own blindness and need to hide from the reality that is around you. Perhaps you are afraid of homosexuality even if Scalia was not.

        • Rich

          Of course, you are entitled to your opinion, but yous seem compelled not to offer it, instead treating us to buzzwords “homophobia”, “bigotry” and ad hominems.

          Too bad.

          • Yes, Ram, it is too bad that so many are so homophobic and bigoted. And why is this? Well, here is my opinion. Perhaps it comes from ignorance and a fear of life and reality that supercedes an ingrained belief system that can never be questioned because the “reality” of two thousand years ago, harbored by uneducated, tribal sheepherders is to be held up as the “truth” of humanity. When present day fundamentalists (and gay haters) absolutely refuse to entertain any social reconsiderations of the nature of sexuality, human development and personal responsibility then you have, as Terri states, groups of present tribal members who speak of elevating “disordered behavior” and anything gay as “opposed as a vision of good”. This is fear speech couched in ancient diatribes. Wake up Ram. Wake up Terri. There is much more to fear in this world than the nature of the sexual continuem and its manifestations. I suggest we should all fear ignorance; for thousands of years this, alone, has done more harm than any gay marriage could ever begin to approach.

          • Are people obligated to conform to “any social reconsiderations of the nature of sexuality, human development and personal responsibility” that others foist upon them, or are they allowed to make such conclusions on their own?

            You seem to believe that they must structure their beliefs around prevailing social mores. You can, but all must do so?

  6. Did Justice Scalia attempt to clarify his statement of Oct. 20 2015 when he suggesting “that some black students might belong at “slower-track” universities.”? He appears to be giving some latitude to the President of the University of Texas by expanding the University’s freshman candidates evaluation by including race in the litmus test. That remark was made during court arguments over an affirmative action program at UT. Rings with REMEDIAL to me! What made Scalia the man he was?

    Perhaps, most important was that he was a staunch Catholic. He fathered nine offspring, one a Priest. If one can define staunch. That “staunchness” would color his views through a dogmatic prism.

    He was not assigned the label of “swing vote”. Justice Kennedy. was pegged with that title.

    His voting record reflects a “business friendly” attitude. California’s “Clean Water Act” was being challenged by the Pacific Legal Foundation to soften restrictions on land owners and restricted the Federal Government’s authority to assure clean municipal drinking water. It was PLF’s largest court win.

    For a man to die at 79 seems nothing to be concerned about. However, Antonin Scalia was a medical time bomb waiting to explode. Not only was his age a factor his military doctor recently identified the extent of his poor health. He had heart trouble, diabetes, a pulmonary disorder, he was obese and he smoked.

    The dog fight to replace Scalia has become a disgraceful political screen play primarily by the Republicans.in the US Senate. Before the body was cold, McConnell did one of his gandy dances by stating that NO hearings would be held to interview Obama nominees. He gave a weak reason saying he “wanted to give the people a voice in selecting a new judge. His dopey reasoning failed to understand that the current electorate has already spoken when they elected President Obama in 2012. Moreover, the November 2016 presidential election could well elect a Democrat. What would McConnell do then? Who can tell what McConnell’s real motive be? He might be under pressure from the ultra right wing of the GOP to replace Scalia with a clone. There might be a slight chance that Obama would nominate a center-right candidate that may well get the 60 senate votes. Sadly, given McConnell’s unconstitutional “child’s play”, we may never see that qualified person.

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