(These thoughts were first published as my Facebook status upon hearing of Justice Scalia's death. I share them here as they turned out to be more of a blog post than I originally realized.)
In 1994-1995, when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and completely immersed in constitutional law, convinced I would some day either be a constitutional attorney or a Ph.D. in Political Science who studied the constitution and the judicial branch (or both, Lord help me), I was first introduced to Scalia's writing. I was feverishly working on a big senior project on US v. Fordice, taking two con law classes, and generally geeking out on reading opinion after opinion of the Supreme Court, past and present.
Scalia's writing was brilliant. BRILLIANT. Aside from working effectively through point-by-point, linear arguments, he was witty, illustrative, and terrific with a well-placed metaphor. He had a singular voice, and I found it to be a breath of fresh air.
I almost never agreed with him, but so often, I would finish what he wrote and think, "Okay, I see how that makes sense, WHY don't I agree?" The closest I can come to describing my mind on Scalia was my experience the previous year reading, "Lolita," finding myself so drawn in by Nabokov's complete mastery of the English language/word choice/pacing/storytelling that at times I found myself rooting for the horrifying Humbert Humbert. Scalia could pull me in, draw in my mind, and make me really think through what I believed and what was important to me as an American citizen.
In recent years, I have had less admiration for the strict constructionist wordsmith I met through his work as a 21-year old. He seemed off the rails at times, even offensive, and I felt badly both because of what he was saying, and because it so besmirched his character, which I had never questioned previously, even in disagreement.
The fact that he was such a fierce friend to Justice Ginsburg still speaks volumes to me. The fact that he is credited with the most laughter during court arguments says even more. The fact that he is now gone from the court makes me incredibly relieved. All of these things are true, simultaneously.
In an age of curated media, of liberal and conservative outposts holding the attention of their followers (myself included), and generally dragging us to the most extreme poles of belief, I miss my days of creeping through the stacks of the UW-Madison Law Library and spending time being intellectually challenged.
If I had met Justice Scalia before his passing, I would have hoped to say something like this: Thank you, Justice Scalia, for teaching me as a young adult to seek out the most intelligent, thoughtful arguments on the opposite side of my belief system; more than anyone, you taught me that I am definitely a loose constructionist. Thank you for showing me that there is something to be learned everywhere, even when you don't agree. Thank you for modeling superb writing. While I do not support the way you shape the decisions of the court, I am so glad you helped to shape my life and my work.
My thoughts and prayers are with the Scalia family. Grazie, Justice.