A US law school has been renamed in honour of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic, who died earlier this year.
At a ceremony held last night, George Mason University, in Virginia, dedicated its law school as the Antonin Scalia Law School. Six fellow justices attended the event, including Justice Elena Kagan, who paid tribute to Scalia’s character and professional brilliance.
Scalia, seen as the leading conservative among the justices, was also renowned for his good humour and friendliness. Kagan praised “his brilliance, his wit, his good cheer, and, well, let’s say his confidence in the manifest rightness of all his opinions”.
Looking back to her time as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan said that the days when she hosted Scalia “were among the most fun I ever had as dean”.
Kagan, a more liberal figure who often disagreed with Scalia, nevertheless praised him as “one of the most important Supreme Court justices ever, and also one of the greatest”.
Scalia, who had been a guest lecturer at George Mason, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986. He was an originalist – that is, he believed that the Constitution’s meaning was fixed at the time it was written.
He also argued that the Court had encroached on areas – such as the redefinition of marriage – which were beyond its proper competence. When the Supreme Court effectively brought same-sex marriage into law, Scalia wrote in his dissent that it was a “judicial putsch” and that the justices who supported the change apparently believed that “an institution as old as government itself, and accepted by every nation in history until 15 years ago, cannot possibly be supported by anything other than ignorance or bigotry.”
Scalia’s wife Maureen and their son Fr Paul Scalia, a priest and one of the couple’s nine children, also attended the ceremony. Fr Scalia gave the invocation.
Justice Scalia spoke candidly about his faith, telling an interviewer for New York magazine in 2013 that he believed in the Devil because it was “standard Catholic doctrine”. When challenged, he said: “Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! … Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.”
He added that he did not especially care about his “legacy” because “When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.”