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Antonin Scalia is best known as an Associate Justice for the U.S. Supreme Court, appointed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan.
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In the immediate aftermath of the Watergate scandal in 1974, Scalia was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Council. In this role, he testified before congressional committees on behalf of the Ford administration over executive privilege. He later argued his first and only case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Alfred Dunhill of London,
Inc. v. Republic of Cuba on behalf of the U.S. Government and won the case.
After a brief stint at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a teaching post at the University of Chicago Law School, Antonin Scalia accepted an appointment from President Ronald Reagan on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982. There he built a conservative record and won high praise in legal circles for his powerful and witty writing, often critical of the U.S. Supreme Court he was bound to follow as a lower court judge. This drew the attention of Reagan administration officials who put him on the short list for a Supreme Court nomination. Antonin Scalia was confirmed Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986.
As a Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia is considered one of the more prominent legal thinkers of his generation. It is also through his blunt (some would say scathing) dissents that he has earned a reputation as combative and insulting. And yet to many who know him personally, he is unpretentious, charming, and funny. One of his closest friends on the Supreme Court is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose political views are vastly different from his own.
Justice Scalia adheres to the judicial philosophy of originalism which holds that the Constitution should be interpreted in terms of what it meant to those who ratified it over two centuries ago. This is in direct conflict with the more commonly held view that the Constitution is a "living document," allowing courts to take into account the views of contemporary society. In Justice Scalia's view the Constitution is not supposed to facilitate change, but to impede change to citizens' basic fundamental rights and responsibilities. Justice Scalia abhors "judicial activism" and believes the place for implementing change is in the legislature, where the will of the people is represented.
Critics say that such a legal interpretation is an impediment toward progress and point to many different examples of where the Constitution's founders held views repugnant to today's standards such as racial and gender equality. Scalia's opponents stress that by interpreting the Constitution in its original form, any progressive law would be declared unconstitutional because it doesn't adhere to the original intent of the founders. For these reasons, Justice Scalia is oftentimes accused of allowing his conservative views to influence his legal judgment.
Antonin Scalia's performance on the bench has exemplified judicial restraint. However, he has puzzled conservatives and pleased liberals by voting to uphold free speech, as in the Texas flag-burning case and striking down a prohibition on hate speech.
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