Antonin Scalia, R.I.P.

It looks like we are about to be inundated by obituaries and opinion pieces praising or damning — as the case may be — the efforts of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia who died in his sleep at the age of 79, yesterday.

We have no intention of competing with all that, or discoursing on the subject of judicial nominations, or to refight old and not-so-old legal battles, but we do want to express our admiration for Scalia the judicial craftsman who could use the English language like no other judge that we know of.* Whatever you may want to say about the substantive content of his opinions, Scalia was never boring. His acerbic bon mots in particular were in a class by themselves. Many of them are being collected and published even as we write, and we recommend that you read them — they will brighten your day no matter which side of the argument you are on. Our own favorite came in the Florida beach case, where the issue presented was whether the rule under review constituted a judicial taking of property. The court decided that the law in question was a creation of the legislature,  so there was no need to address the issue of judicial takings. But that didn’t keep some of the other justices from discoursing on that now-moot subject at length.

Scalia thought that was unnecessary, and in a typically Scalian fashion, he dispatched that discussion by observing  that it was in the nature of the age-old inquiry of how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. So how can you not admire a guy who could do that in a Supreme Court opinion?

We also think it proper to share with our readers a bon mot of, of all people, our mother-in-law who once observed that for an old, successful guy who accomplished much in his life, to die quietly in his sleep, is a “billionaire’s death.” True, Scalia was only 79 years old, which is not all that ancient as judges’ lives go, but as deaths go, and considering the various alternatives, it wasn’t bad at all.

R.I.P. Nino. You did one hell of a job.


* Actually, he did have a close competitor. The late Robert Gardner of the California Court of Appeal, whose acerbic and very funny opinion language was widely admired and actually inspired two law review articles, one of them entitled A Garden of Gardner. Do check it out when you have the time.