Justice News

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks at a Memorial Ceremony in Honor of Justice Antonin Scalia
Washington, DC
United States
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Friday, November 4, 2016

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The Bar of the Court met today to honor the memory of Antonin G. Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1986 to 2016. 

The passing of Justice Scalia has left an enormous void, in this courtroom and in the life of the law throughout the United States.  With his razor-sharp brilliance and unmatched eloquence, Justice Scalia transformed the way that jurists and lawyers approach the law.  He strode like a colossus through some of the most important opinions, concurrences and dissents of our time.  And he had a singular presence – both in the courtroom and on the page.  His penetrating questions at oral argument did not merely seek to clarify minor nuances – they cut to the heart of a position’s flaws.  And his writing did not merely state the law – it captivated all who treasure memorable and radiant prose.  Even those who disagreed with Justice Scalia could appreciate his inspired wordsmithing, like his assertion that Congress does not “hide elephants in mouseholes” or his contention that “the rule of law” requires “a law of rules.” 

Justice Scalia’s life was a quintessentially American story.  His father was a Sicilian immigrant who came through Ellis Island as a teenager, earned a doctorate from Columbia and became a professor.  His mother was an elementary school teacher, herself the daughter of Italian immigrants.  By all accounts, Justice Scalia’s talent was obvious from a young age.  From Xavier High School in Manhattan to Georgetown, where he graduated first in his class, to Harvard Law School, where he edited the Harvard Law Review, he was a charismatic student who loved to debate. 

That charisma and his love of the clash of ideas would come to define him.  With these gifts, he could have gone anywhere and done anything.  He could have conquered the worlds of commerce or found a home within the business of the law.  But rather than pursue material wealth in the private sector, he chose the wealth of ideas to be found in academia.  And instead of seeking public acclaim, he turned to public service.  Law students at the University of Virginia, as well as the University of Chicago, Georgetown and Stanford, benefited from his rigorous intellectualism and love of the law.  And we at the Department of Justice also benefited from his dedication to public service.  From 1974 to 1977, he served as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice.  The traits that would come to define Justice Scalia’s judicial presence were apparent in that role, as he provided written opinions that showcased his intellectual rigor, his sharp pen and his independent mind.  He was also known for his fierce support of the independence of the Office of Legal Counsel and of the department, traditions we are proud to uphold.

Justice Scalia’s contributions to the Supreme Court cannot be overstated.  Countless pages have been written about the textualist approach to statutory interpretation he championed.  In his three decades on the bench, he succeeded in changing the very way that lawyers and judges determine the meaning of congressional enactments and he fundamentally transformed legal argument.  As Justice Kagan noted in her Scalia Lecture at Harvard Law School, “we’re all textualists now.” 

Justice Scalia will also be remembered for his robust interpretations of the protections that the Constitution affords those who come in contact with the criminal justice system.  His Fourth Amendment and Sixth Amendment decisions regarding searches, the right to a jury trial and the Confrontation Clause fundamentally shaped the way law enforcement officers investigate potential wrongdoing and the way prosecutors put on their cases.  The opinions are noteworthy for their reliance on Justice Scalia’s originalist approach to interpreting the Constitution – a philosophy that looks backwards in order to look forward.  It looks back to the founding of this great nation in an effort to understand the protections reserved in the Constitution.  And it looks forward to demand that we uphold these protections despite changing times.

But Justice Scalia’s greatest legacy may be that he brought unmatched conviction and enthusiasm to his jurisprudence.  In doing so, he elevated our national legal discourse for all Americans.  He challenged even those who agreed with him and he earned the respect of those who did not.  Lawyers who appeared before Justice Scalia found themselves compelled to clarify their positions and to sharpen their arguments.  Readers of Justice Scalia’s opinions could not disregard the strength of his reasoning and were forced to reexamine their convictions.  Justice Scalia knew that this was the point of debate – and he also knew that debate was the essence of democracy.  For decades, he had an outsized role in the debates over the meaning of our most fundamental principles: principles of liberty, justice and equality.  And because of the brilliance, the eloquence, and the unique passion he brought to that debate, he guaranteed that he will continue to shape it for decades to come.

Mr. Chief Justice, on behalf of the lawyers of this nation, and in particular, the members of this Court’s Bar, I respectfully request that the Resolutions presented to you in honor of Antonin Scalia be accepted by the Court and that they, together with the chronicle of these proceedings, be ordered kept for all time in the records of this Court.

Updated November 4, 2016