I’ve never wished…

…a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure. – Clarence Darrow

Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached. – Antonin Scalia

HE MAY NOT HAVE WISHED HIM DEAD, but Antonin Scalia would have surely  tested Clarence Darrow’s limits. One can wonder what the attorney for the damned, as they called Darrow when he defended Leopold and Loeb from the gallows, would have thought of a judge who could say in all seriousness that mere innocence is an insufficient reason to call off the hangman.

To call Antonin Scalia a conservative is to demean the word. He was not a conservative; he was a radical, a culture warrior for whom the rule of law less a pillar of civilization than a weapon with which to smite the enemy. This he did with gusto. Even in defeat he hurled gleeful sarcastic insults like spit in his written dissents. His vaunted “strict constructionism” was remarkably fluid. He believed the original intent of the signers of the Constitution was the only guiding light that mattered, until the theocratic dictates of his own religious conservatism mattered more. In truth all that mattered to him was the culture war.

The complements on his intelligence are equally puzzling. He had a razor sharp intellect that couldn’t think its way past his barstool prejudices. He had a brilliant legal mind that reasoned the Constitution doesn’t forbid executing innocent people. He was a cerebral judicial scholar who held there is no constitutional right to vote. When he looked upon same-sex couples asking for nothing more than the same rights others take for granted, that razor sharp incisive intellect was utterly incapable of seeing their humanity, but only something akin to bestiality.

Perhaps in another darker age this man’s belittling vision of human rights would mark him for sainthood, but this is not a theocracy, at least for now, and the American dream of liberty and justice for all is not yet dead despite his best efforts. They say at funerals that the deceased is now at peace, but it’s a peace he declined to leave to his country as a legacy. All those crafty zingers, the insults to women, gays, everyday citizens simply asking the court for justice which he sprinkled with undisguised pleasure into his decisions, define the man and his legacy. He could have used that gift of intellect to strengthen the bonds between Americans. Instead he waged an ugly culture war from the bench of the highest court in the land.  America was made poorer, meaner, and angrier for his having sat there.  Perhaps he has gone to a better place now. We certainly have.