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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died today at the age of 79. He reportedly died in his sleep during a visit to Texas. Here are nine things you should know about one of the leading conservative voices on the nation’s highest court:
1. Antonin Scalia (nicknamed “Nino”) was born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, New Jersey. He attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, a military school run by the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic Church, and studied History at Georgetown University. After graduating as valedictorian from Georgetown in 1957, he attended Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude.2. After graduating from Harvard Scalia worked for a law firm in Cleveland, Ohio (1961–67), before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he taught at the University of Virginia Law School (1967–74). While in Virginia, he served the federal government as general counsel to the Office of Telecommunications Policy (1971–72) and as chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (1972–74). In 1974 Scalia left academia when President Ford nominated him to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, an office in the Department of Justice that assists the Attorney General in his function as legal adviser to the President and all executive branch agencies.
3. In 1977 Scalia resumed his academic career at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Law School (1977–82). For part of the latter period he served as editor of Regulation, a review published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. In 1982 President Reagan nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1986, Chief Justice Warren Burger informed the White House of his intent to retire, allowing Reagan to nominate Associate Justice William Rehnquist to become Chief Justice and nominating Scalia to fill Rehnquist’s seat as associate justice.
4. Scalia was the first Italian American to serve on the Supreme Court—a fact that was frequently remarked on during the opening remarks of his confirmation hearings. This lead Senator Howard Heflin (D-Alabama) to jokingly say, “Judge Scalia, I believe that almost every Senator that has an Italian American connection has come forward to welcome you to this or to participate in this hearing thus far. I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that my great-great-grandfather married a widow who was married first to an Italian American.” Scalia replied, “Senator, I have been to Alabama several times too.”
5. Scalia was known for his wit and humor. A study by Jay D. Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, of transcripts during oral arguments found that was good for slightly more than one laugh—1.027, to be exact—per argument during the 2004-2005 session.
6. Scalia subscribed to a judicial philosophy known as “originalism.” This view holds that the Constitution should be interpreted in terms of what it meant to those who ratified the Constitution in 1788, and is often contrasted with the Constitution as a “living document” that allows courts to take into account the views of contemporary society. Scalia argued that originalism—and trying to figure out the Constitution’s original meaning—is the only valid option for judicial interpretation, otherwise “you’re just telling judges to govern.” “The Constitution is not a living organism,” he said. “It’s a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.”