Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died at the age of 79 on Saturday. Business Insider spoke to Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz about the conservative jurist’s most lasting contribution to the court.
“The most fundamental contribution was his methodology — his way of looking at originalism, his way of looking at at intention … his way of disregarding precedent,” said Dershowitz, who formerly clerked on the high court himself.
Scalia considered himself an “originalist,” meaning that he interpreted the Constitution as a fixed document whose meaning didn’t evolve over time. In 2013, he famously declared that the Constitution was not a living document but was in fact “dead, dead, dead.”
Time and time again, Scalia was fond of pointing out that the Constitution didn’t automatically grant people specific rights — including the right to marry people of the same sex or the right not to have the National Security Agency spy on one’s phone conversations.
Being an originalist also means that Scalia often prioritised the words of the Constitution over prior Supreme Court precedent, as Dershowitz pointed out. One prime example of this was Scalia’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the high court reversed course and decided that the Second Amendment gave individuals the right to bear arms.
“[T]he enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table,” Scalia wrote, per The New York Times. “It is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”
Scalia made originalism more popular during his tenure on the court, UCLA law professor Adam Winkler told us.
“Now originalism is a leading, if not the leading, way to interpret the Constitution,” Winkler said.
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