Monday, February 15, 2016

Scalia Will Be Missed--But Not By Me

Once Richard Nixon died, Hunter S. Thompson penned an obituary titled "He Was A Crook." I could just as well call this piece "He Was A Troll." It's certainly the first word that comes to mind to describe Antonin Scalia. His writings will have to go down as some of the most petty and unabashedly partisan ever written by any Supreme Court Justice to sit at the bench.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (taken from Above the Law)
I'll say one thing: I'm not happy he's dead. I'm certainly glad he's not on the Supreme Court anymore, but I would have been no less so if he'd retired or been impeached and kicked off the court--in fact, that would have been more fitting. I don't have the hatred of the man himself required to rejoice at his death, but I certainly despise his legacy enough that I would have loved to see him leave disgraced rather than hold office until his death.

While it's not an impeachable offense, there can't be much doubt that Scalia was a bigot on multiple levels. He was the Archie Bunker of the Supreme Court, a man with common prejudices and uncommon power, and no qualms about using the one to further the other. He despised the gays perhaps most of all, as he made clear time and again, in and out of the courtroom. He took a certain perverse joy in coming up with other sins to indirectly compare homosexuality to--murder, drug use, prostitution, child pornography.

His personal venom translated one hundred percent into his jurisprudence. At every turn, he attempted to thwart the "homosexual agenda," which he warned about in one of his dissents. There was no discrimination against gays that was too much for Scalia, whether it be personal or governmental. "Homosexual sodomy" was wrong and disgusting, and anyone who wanted to protect themselves from the unholy reprobates who engaged in it was in their right, morally and legally, to do so. He had no respect for the idea of gay relationships, sexual or nonsexual, sneeringly comparing "the 'life partner' of a homosexual" to the roommate of a straight person.

He hated that the court kept giving more rights to gays, and he made it clear early on, accusing them of taking sides in the "Culture War" by ruling against sodomy laws and condemning homophobic discrimination in 2003. The climax came with his unhinged, apoplectic screed of a dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. He accused his colleagues of a "putsch," railing against the "egotistic" style of the majority opinion and comparing its ideas to the "mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie." He praised the idea of letting states ban gay marriage as an exemplary exercise of American democracy, which is how he saw every law passed to the detriment of gays.

He didn't have much more regard for the blacks. His comments last December about how they might do better in "less-advanced" schools instead of more prestigious universities was just the latest example of his white supremacism finding its way to the surface. The Voting Rights Act, he said, was just a "racial entitlement." He snarled at affirmative action not just as something he viewed as unconstitutional but as an attempt to elevate blacks to a position they didn't deserve.

Scalia pretended to be a constitutionalist or an originalist, but he could have been best described as a loyal foot-soldier for the entrenched powers in society, whether those powers be governmental, corporate, racial, or anything else. There was hardly a time when he wouldn't choose the brute over the brutalized, the torturer over the tortured, the oppressor over the oppressed. His ideas of how to interpret the Constitution and the law twisted and turned like a plumber's snake going through sewage pipes, depending on the circumstances.

He claimed to abide by the interpretation that the Founders wanted, but he used the First Amendment to hand over to corporate behemoths the right to pour advertising money behind their favorite candidate, because corporations had the right of people now. That's the sort of idea that has to make Thomas Jefferson and James Madison pound on the lids of their coffins in a futile attempt to stop the sheer depravity that's engulfed the country in the years since they left this world.

His love of the idea of self-government, which he cited whenever the court struck down some law he liked, didn't keep him from joining the majority opinion in Bush v. Gore and appointing his man president, shutting down the democratic process in Florida. Rumor has it he was even the driving force behind that scummy decision, the decision that most deserves to be called a putsch, out of the recent rulings from the Supreme Court. He was a Republican Party loyalist, happily toadying up to the Grand Wizards of the GOP and ranting against Democrats. 

In keeping with his love of society's monsters and bullies, he had no problem with spitting in the eyes of the people who didn't like his decisions, like when he told the critics of Citizens United that if they didn't like unlimited corporate money financing ad campaigns for candidates, they could just shut off their TVs. When he was questioned about Bush v. Gore in 2008, he dismissively told his critics to "get over it." We can't know how much of his racist and homophobic commentary was sincere and how much of it was just part of him trying to jab at liberals and progressives for kicks and giggles. He was a provocateur posing as a jurist, and he knew it.

Most striking about him was his readiness to abandon any sort of stateliness and turn his position on the bench into a way for him to be top right-wing political commentator--Rush Limbaugh with a black robe and a taxpayer-funded salary. When the Supreme Court had to decide whether Arizona's immigration law was constitutional, he used his opinion as an opportunity to launch a partisan attack against Obama for a recent and totally unrelated executive action.

Scalia was the sorest of sore losers, not just willing to attack the winners when he lost but willing to attack the game itself. He warned of black-robed tyranny, of an unaccountable panel of nine destroying the people's will, every time the court ruled down the laws he liked, but he had no problem with the idea of imposing his own will when it came to shredding affirmative action or campaign finance reform.  He was the epitome of modern conservatism, fetishizing the ideas of small government and constitutionalism while abandoning them at his own discretion in practice.

He readily went off in his dissents with dire warnings and condemnations that had no bearing on the actual legal question. When the Court decided that people held at Guantanamo without any charge were entitled to Habeas Corpus, he claimed that the decision impeded the war the country was involved in (against radical Islamists) and that it would almost certainly kill Americans. He was a doomsday preacher whenever things went his opponents' way, and cavalierly dismissed their concerns whenever he got his. When the constitutionality of the death penalty was being discussed, he tried to justify it by citing a case where an 11-year-old had been raped and murdered, calling lethal injection "enviable" in comparison. As it turned out, the man Scalia thought was in an "enviable" position hadn't even done the crime--DNA evidence later exonerated him.

Scalia hated judicial activism, but shredded any ideas, no matter how embedded in the constitution, that didn't conform to his view of society. Thomas Jefferson wrote about a wall of separation between church and state, but Scalia said that it was fine for the government to favor religion over non-religion, just so long as it didn't pick any single denomination to favor. You could call him a relic, but there's probably no point in American history where the country looked the way he wanted it to. He wasn't satisfied with the idea of gays being kept in the closet or blacks being kept in their place; he also wanted a country that openly used Christianity as its moral guide, readily reminding all non-Christians at every turn that their beliefs didn't matter and this country wasn't really theirs. Non-Christians were just another of the many downtrodden groups that Scalia had no problem keeping downtrodden.

He was a theocrat, along with a homophobe and a racist. He had the sort of mindset that would be more at home in the government of Iran or Saudi Arabia, that saw religious values and norms as entirely legitimate for the government to push onto its citizens and the end of a bayonet. That was where his disgust for gays traced back to: his desire to see the country forced to conform to "Christian" values. He accused his colleagues of having taken sides in the Culture War, but there was no judge who had done so more openly than him.

We have already been subjected to hearing about the hero, the patriot, the great jurist that we lost. If I tried to abide by the ideas of political civility, I would find something nice to say about Scalia--that I disagreed with him but that he was a great Justice. I don't, and I won't. He was toxic, and his legacy is toxic. It's an ugly fact that the longer people like Scalia are around and in power, the longer it will take for any sort of civilized society to really be achieved. I'm not happy to see Scalia die. I'm not even truly happy to see him off of the court; I'm just relieved that the lowliest member of the high court is no longer there to wreak his havoc.

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