Introduction of Justice Antonin Scalia

by Justice Anne Burke

Juastice Anne Burke, introducing Justice ScaliaIt is an honor and a pleasure for me to welcome Justice Antonin Scalia to the American Catholic Press on the occasion of his acceptance of the Gratiam Dei Award.

Justice Antonin Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and studied in both private and Catholic parochial schools as a boy.  He graduated valedictorian of his class from Georgetown University and then studied at Harvard Law School, where he was both editor of the Law Review and a graduate summa cum laude.

Justice Scalia was in private practice in Cleveland, Ohio, before accepting a teaching position at the University of Virginia Law School.  He then turned to public service, working in both the Nixon and Ford Administrations, before returning in 1977 to the academic world to teach law here, at the University of Chicago Law School.

President Ronald Reagan (left) with Justice Antonin ScaliaIn 1982, he was appointed by President Ronald Regan to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  He was appointed Supreme Court Justice in 1986, his nomination confirmed with astonishing unanimity by a Senate vote of 98-0.

Since joining the Court, Justice Scalia has issued hundreds of opinions addressing a multitude of difficult and contentious issues.  His opinions have been studied avidly by students of the law everywhere, both for the elegance of their arguments and their candor of expression.  He is regarded as one of the most brilliant legal minds of our time.

The stated goal of the Gratiam Dei Award is to recognize "important and outstanding service to the American Catholic Press, to the liturgy of the Catholic Church, or to the common good."

We gather tonight to honor Justice Scalia for his tremendous contribution to the common good of this country, including the Catholic Church, of which he is a devoted member. 

As a member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Scalia must rule on the most fundamental issues of constitutional interpretation.  Of these issues, he has been perhaps the most outspoken in his opinions upholding the right of the individual to practice the religion of his or her choice and in his interpretations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which forbids the preferential establishment of any particular religion by our government. 

We here are people of faith; and we know that without our faith, we are lost.  Justice Scalia has been a great champion of Catholics and of all people of faith.  In his opinions for the Court, he has consistently recognized the important role that religion has played both in American history and in the daily lives of millions of Americans today.  He has stressed the need for acknowledgement, tolerance, and accommodation of all religious expression.  As he stated in his dissent in Lee v. Weisman, Justice Scalia has given voice to the reality that "religious men and women of almost all denominations have felt it necessary to acknowledge and beseech the blessing of God as a people."

While others have been openly critical of any display of religious belief in civic life, Justice Scalia has taken a different stance.  Perhaps more than any other Supreme Court Justice in our memory, he has realized, as he again stated in Lee, that "maintaining respect for the religious observations of others is a fundamental civic virtue that government (including the public schools) can and should cultivate."

At the same time, he has never lost sight of the importance of separation of church and state and has said that, "while American Founding Fathers did not want the federal government to 'establish' one official religion, they did not intend for faith to be completely removed from public life."

Nor does Justice Scalia allow his religious views to influence his judgements.  We know this by his own words, when he says:

"The only one of my religious views that has anything to do with my job as a judge is the need to follow the commandment, 'Thou shall not lie.'  I try to observe that faithfully."

Justice Scalia is a friend to us by being a friend of the law, a man of the Catholic faith who administers the law with impartiality.  He is a man of principle, integrity, and action. 

Legal scholars call him an "originalist," by Justice Antonin Scalia, delivering his address at the ACP dinner Oct. 7, 2006, at the Flossmoor Country Club. Photo by Matthew Grotto/The Starwhich they mean he interprets the law in the light of the original intentions of the framers of the United States Constitution.  But they may well call him that because (whether one disagrees or agrees with his opinions) all recognize in Justice Scalia an original and principled thinker who interprets the law justly.

As a Catholic and a judge myself, I know well that it is ultimately his faith that is his anchor when he navigates the deep water of his awesome responsibility.

I am pleased to join with you tonight in honoring Justice Antonin Scalia!

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