Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Book Review: American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (2009) by Joan Biskupic.

Justice Antonin Scalia has objected to receiving "lifetime" achievement awards as akin to a shiny statue going to a "washed up" Hollywood actor to recognize past achievements.

This new book, American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, while seemingly a capstone of Justice Scalia's long career on the bench at the U.S. Supreme Court, instead posits that he now "might be at the apex of his influence." (p. 364.)

"Scalia had changed the terms of the debate at the [Supreme] Court, in law schools, and in professional legal analyses." (353.)

He has been called the Court's "most influential justice." (353.)

So, rather than just celebrating a career, the book looks for streams collecting into Justice Scalia's current, powerful river of influence.

Some key themes emerge: (1) his religion; (2) his politics; and (3) his jurisprudential philosophy, among other things.

Religious Influences

Justice Scalia recounted "the last lesson [he] learned at Georgetown: not to separate your religious life from your intellectual life. They are not separate." (25.) Others have observed this influence: "Scalia's longtime friend Arthur Gajarsa, who became a federal appeals judge in 1997, characterized Scalia as defined by his Catholicism. 'I think his faithful belief in the Catholic doctrine is what makes him run.'" (187.)

As I have written extensively on the intersection of law and theology, especially as it relates to the similar use of texts, I found the following observation intriguing: "SUNY-Buffalo law professor George Kanner linked Scalia's text-driven legal approach with his 'catechism' roots as the son of observant Catholics and a graduate of the Jesuit-run Xavier High School and Georgetown University." (191.)

Political Influences

American Original also recounts Justice Scalia's work in the Nixon and Ford administrations, where he linked up with Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. He argued strongly then for an expansive Executive branch power, and that view has not abated on the bench.

Jurisprudential Influences

This book spends considerable space delving into Justice Scalia's originalist judicial philosophy and traces its outworking through many controversies and opinions.

Biskupic, a Supreme Court reporter for many years, with Justice Scalia's blessing (413), has written a superb, fully-orbed portrayal of the high court's "most influential justice."

Recommended to lawyer and layperson alike, but since the book delves into the "weeds" of the law, it probably would be appreciated more by the former.

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