© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Staunch Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia Dies At Age 79


We have some breaking news now. United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the senior member of the court, has died. He was reportedly found at a West Texas ranch. Justice Scalia was 79 years old. We're joined now by Stephen Henderson. He is the editorial page editor and a columnist at the Detroit Free-Press. He covered the court for five terms between 2003 and 2007. He's with us now by phone. Stephen Henderson, thanks so much for speaking with us.

STEPHEN HENDERSON: Hi, Michel. How are you?

MARTIN: So - very well, thanks. So Justice Scalia, of course, is known as a conservative stalwart, certainly the most pungent conservative voice on that court. What decisions stand out for you?

HENDERSON: Well, I mean, I think the decision that he wrote that stands out the most is the Heller decision. I actually was not there to cover in Washington. That's - I believe 2008 ruling on the D.C. gun law which was the first time in about a hundred years in fact that the court recognized this individual right to bear arms and handguns as a means of self-protection. It, of course, sent the debate over gun laws and gun restrictions in a really different direction. I think it's actually a really good example of the kind of things that Justice Scalia believed and the kind of impact he wanted to have on this court. I mean, this was somebody who was nominated by President Reagan in 1986 as part of what they believed would be a wave of lawmaking - not lawmaking I suppose because it's the court - but certainly reshaping American law in a way that reflected conservative principles and this idea of originalism, which he is really - if not the father, certainly the godfather on the court - the idea that we ought to interpret the law today as the founders intended it and that anything that conflicts with that is unconstitutional.

MARTIN: Tell me a bit, if you would, just briefly, if you would, about your memories of him on the bench. I know certainly, people who are familiar with his writings would be very familiar with a rather cutting tone. But...

HENDERSON: Yeah (laughter).

MARTIN: ...In person, many people found him extremely charming. He was certainly very social, and people found him kind of very congenial company. What about your memories of him from the bench? We have about a minute and a half.

HENDERSON: On the bench, he was also very cutting. I mean, he was - he suffered no fools in the courtroom. You know, when he thought somebody was trying to put on for the court or sort of pull the wool over their eyes, he was very quick to point that out and not always nice about it. You know, he was an active questioner, a very aggressive questioner. I think a lot of people who practice in front of the Supreme Court would say they were fearful of the kind of questioning they would experience from Justice Scalia. But I do point out, you know, personally, he was a little more affable. I mean, he was - he had a great wit and humor that I know that people who have known him well say, you know, he was quite a warm personality and a close friend.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, we only have about 30 seconds, Stephen, do you - what do you think his legacy will be? What - how do you think people will remember him?

HENDERSON: Well, I mean, I think it's outside of the court really. I mean, this is a guy who has shaped an entire generation of conservative thinking in this country, this idea of originalism, of rooting every thought about the law in what the founders believed or thought they were doing. And that goes beyond the core, as I said. I mean, the popular conservatism owes much of its thinking today to people like Justice Scalia.

MARTIN: That's Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free-Press. He's editorial page editor and a columnist there. He covered the Supreme Court for five terms between 2003 and 2007. Stephen Henderson, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HENDERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.