Antonin Scalia (1936–2016)
Supreme Court Justice, Medal of Freedom Recipient
Following his nomination by President Ronald Reagan and unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Antonin Scalia served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1986 until his death in 2016. Born in 1936 in Trenton, New Jersey, Scalia graduated from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School. After practicing law and teaching, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice before serving with distinction on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. After joining the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia transformed its workings in two significant ways. First, before his appointment to the High Court, appellate attorneys were generally accustomed to reading from prepared remarks without facing many demanding questions from the bench. Justice Scalia’s presence quickly transformed the nature of Supreme Court oral argument into something much more dynamic, as he subtly probed and dissected the nature of their arguments with keen insight and wit. Second, both from the bench and in his written opinions, Justice Scalia worked tirelessly to refine and advance the fundamental legal concept of originalism, through which he sought to have judges interpret the Constitution based upon how closely the arguments in the case aligned with its language, history, and original intent. His originalist judicial philosophy led him on occasion to rule in opposition to his own personal tastes and religious faith. He strongly objected to the position that the Constitution was a “living document” that should be interpreted through a modern lens. He was also famous for authoring memorably caustic dissents when he believed the Court had failed to exercise proper judicial restraint. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Donald J. Trump.