Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia joined the U.S. Supreme Court on September 26, 1986, filling a vacancy left by Justice William Rehnquist. (Rehnquist was elevated to Chief Justice at the time, replacing Warren Burger.) Scalia was born on March 11, 1936 in Trenton, New Jersey. He graduated at the top of his high school class and then attended Georgetown University. Scalia was again the valedictorian at Georgetown, graduating in 1957 with a degree in history. He received his law degree from Harvard Law School three years later.

Between 1961 and 1967, Scalia practiced law in Ohio at the firm that would eventually become Jones Day. He then became a law professor at the University of Virginia. Between 1971 and 1974, Scalia held various positions in the Nixon administration. Nixon nominated him as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel shortly before the Watergate scandal forced him to resign. Fortunately for Scalia, President Gerald Ford continued the nomination, and he was confirmed to this post in August 1974. Scalia served there until early 1977, when President Jimmy Carter replaced Ford.

Over the next few years, Scalia held a mixture of positions in the private sector, mostly in academia. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. After being confirmed, Scalia served on the D.C. Circuit for the next four years. Impressed by his performance there, Reagan nominated Scalia to the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 1986. The Senate confirmed him on September 17 in a 98-0 vote, and he took the judicial oath nine days later.

Scalia would serve on the Court for nearly three decades, becoming renowned for both his impressive intellect and his staunchly conservative views. For example, he was generally hostile to LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights. Scalia dissented from Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and he frequently urged the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the constitutional right to abortion. He questioned the legitimacy of Miranda rights and supported the death penalty, dissenting from decisions that prevented it from being applied to certain types of defendants. Meanwhile, one of Scalia’s most famous majority opinions came in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, which endorsed an individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.

Scalia adhered to a school of constitutional interpretation called originalism. This meant that the Constitution and its amendments should be interpreted according to their meaning when they were ratified, rather than adjusting their meaning as society evolves. Similarly, Scalia used a textualist approach when interpreting statutes. This meant that he relied on a close reading of the words of a law rather than legislative history and other external evidence of intent.

Scalia died on February 13, 2016 at a ranch in Texas. He lay in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court Building and was eventually buried in Fairfax, Virginia. Scalia’s seat on the Court remained vacant for over a year before he was replaced by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Selected Opinions by Justice Scalia:

Michigan v. EPA (2015)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants.

EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. (2015)

Topic: Labor & Employment

To prevail in a disparate treatment claim, an applicant needs to show only that their need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision. They do not need to show that the employer had knowledge of their need.

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (2014)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The EPA exceeded its statutory authority when it interpreted the Clean Air Act to require PSD (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) and Title V permitting for stationary sources based on their greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA may not treat greenhouse gases as a pollutant for the purposes of defining a major emitting facility in the PSD context or a major source in the Title V context. However, the EPA may continue to treat greenhouse gases as a “pollutant subject to regulation under this chapter” for the purposes of requiring BACT (best available control technology) for “anyway” sources.

City of Arlington v. FCC (2013)

Topic: Government Agencies

Courts must apply the Chevron framework to an agency's interpretation of a statutory ambiguity that concerns the scope of the agency's statutory authority.

Florida v. Jardines (2013)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Using a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner's porch to investigate the contents of the home is a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. v. Jones (2012)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The government's attachment of a GPS device to a vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (2011)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures; Labor & Employment

In an employment discrimination class action, the conceptual gap between an individual's discrimination claim and the existence of a class of persons who have suffered the same injury must be bridged by significant proof that an employer operated under a general policy of discrimination. More generally, a class in a proposed class action has common questions of law or fact if their claims depend on a common contention of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution, which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each of the claims in one stroke.

Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass'n (2011)

Topic: Free Speech

Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium.

Staub v. Proctor Hospital (2011)

Topic: Labor & Employment

If a supervisor performs an act motivated by discriminatory animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, the employer is liable.

Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection (2010)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

The state as owner of the submerged land adjacent to littoral property has the right to fill that land, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of the public and of littoral landowners. Also, if an avulsion exposes land seaward of littoral property that had previously been submerged, that land belongs to the state even if it interrupts the littoral owner's contact with the water. There is no exception to this rule when the state causes the avulsion.

Maryland v. Shatzer (2010)

Topic: Miranda Rights

When a suspect experienced a break in Miranda custody lasting more than two weeks between the first and second attempts at interrogation, Edwards did not mandate the suppression of their statements.

Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (2009)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

Affidavits reporting the results of forensic analysis are testimonial, rendering the affiants “witnesses” subject to the defendant's right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment.

FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. (2009)

Topic: Government Agencies

An agency need not demonstrate to a court's satisfaction that the reasons for a new policy are better than the reasons for the old policy. It suffices that the new policy is permissible under the statute, there are good reasons for it, and the agency believes it to be better, which the conscious change adequately indicates.

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

Topic: Gun Rights

The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. (2008)

Topic: Health Care

The Medical Device Amendments to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act preempt state common-law claims challenging the safety or effectiveness of medical devices marketed in a form that received pre-market approval from the FDA.

Scott v. Harris (2007)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures; Search & Seizure

When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for the purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Also, a police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.

U.S. v. Gonzalez-Lopez (2006)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

A trial court's erroneous deprivation of a criminal defendant's choice of counsel entitles them to reversal of their conviction.

Davis v. Washington (2006)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

Statements are testimonial for Confrontation Clause purposes when the circumstances objectively indicate that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.

Rapanos v. U.S. (2006)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The phrase “the waters of the United States” includes only relatively permanent, standing, or continuously flowing bodies of water, rather than channels through which water flows intermittently or ephemerally, or channels that periodically provide drainage for rainfall. Moreover, only wetlands with a continuous surface connection to waters of the United States, so that there is no clear demarcation between waters and wetlands, are adjacent to these waters and covered by the Clean Water Act.

Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (2004)

Topic: Government Agencies

A “failure to act” under Section 551(13) of the APA is properly understood as a failure to take one of the agency actions (including their equivalents) earlier defined in that section.

Crawford v. Washington (2004)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

When testimonial statements are at issue, the only indicium of reliability sufficient to satisfy constitutional demands is confrontation.

Verizon Communications, Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, LLP (2003)

Topic: Antitrust

There are few exceptions from the proposition that there is no duty to aid competitors.

Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (2003)

Topic: Trademarks

Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act does not prevent the unaccredited copying of an uncopyrighted work.

Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002)

Topic: Free Speech

A canon of judicial conduct that prohibits a candidate for a judicial office from announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues violates the First Amendment.

Kyllo v. U.S. (2001)

Topic: Search & Seizure

When the government uses a device that is not in general public use to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment search, and it is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.

Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc. (2001)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Climate Change & Environment; Government Agencies

Section 109(b) of the Clean Air Act does not permit the EPA Administrator to consider implementation costs in setting NAAQS (national ambient air quality standards). Also, when conferring decision-making authority upon agencies, Congress must lay down an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to act is directed to conform.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Brothers, Inc. (2000)

Topic: Trademarks

In an action for infringement of unregistered trade dress under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, the design of a product is distinctive and therefore protectable only upon a showing of secondary meaning.

Wyoming v. Houghton (1999)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Police officers with probable cause to search a car may inspect passengers' belongings found in the car that are capable of concealing the object of the search.

Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp. (1998)

Topic: Labor & Employment

For a union to waive employees' rights to a federal judicial forum for statutory anti-discrimination claims, the agreement to arbitrate these claims must be clear and unmistakable.

Reno v. AADC (1999)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

When a foreign national's continuing presence in the U.S. violates immigration laws, the government does not offend the Constitution by deporting the foreign national for the additional reason that they are believed to be a member of an organization that supports terrorist activity. More generally, when deportation is sought because of an act committed by the foreign national, they are not being punished for that act but are merely being held to the terms under which they were admitted.

Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. (1998)

Topic: Labor & Employment; LGBTQ+ Rights

Sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII.

Printz v. U.S. (1997)

Topic: Powers of Congress

Congressional action compelling state officers to execute federal laws is unconstitutional. The federal government's power would be augmented immeasurably and impermissibly if it were able to impress into its service, and at no cost to itself, the police officers of the 50 states.

Bennett v. Spear (1997)

Topic: Government Agencies

Two conditions must be satisfied for agency action to be final. The action must mark the consummation of the agency's decision-making process, and it must be an action by which rights or obligations have been determined, or from which legal consequences will flow.

Auer v. Robbins (1997)

Topic: Labor & Employment

The salary-basis test denies exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act when employees are covered by a policy that permits disciplinary or other deductions in pay as a practical matter. That standard is met if there is either an actual practice of making such deductions or an employment policy that creates a significant likelihood of such deductions.

Whren v. U.S. (1996)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The temporary detention of a motorist on probable cause to believe that they have violated the traffic laws does not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures, even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist without an additional law enforcement objective.

O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp. (1996)

Topic: Labor & Employment

The fact that one member of a protected class lost out to another member is irrelevant to an employment discrimination claim so long as they lost out because of their protected trait.

City of Chicago v. Environmental Defense Fund (1994)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

While a resource recovery facility's management activities are excluded from RCRA Subtitle C regulation, its generation of toxic ash is not.

R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992)

Topic: Free Speech

Areas of speech that can be regulated because of their constitutionally proscribable content still cannot be made vehicles for content discrimination unrelated to their distinctively proscribable content. However, when the basis for the content discrimination consists entirely of the very reason why the entire class of speech at issue is proscribable, no significant danger of idea or viewpoint discrimination exists. Another valid basis for according differential treatment to even a content-defined subclass of proscribable speech is that the subclass happens to be associated with particular secondary effects of the speech, so the regulation is justified without reference to the content of the speech.

Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

When the state seeks to sustain regulation that deprives land of all economically beneficial use, it may resist compensation only if the logically antecedent inquiry into the nature of the owner's estate shows that the proscribed use interests were not part of their title at the outset. A total taking inquiry entails an analysis of the following factors: the degree of harm to public lands and resources, or adjacent private property, posed by the claimant's proposed activities; the social value of the claimant's activities and their suitability to the locality in question; and the relative ease with which the alleged harm can be avoided through measures taken by the claimant and the government (or adjacent private landowners) alike.

Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (1992)

Topic: Role of Courts

A plaintiff claiming only a generally available grievance about government, unconnected with a threatened concrete interest of their own, does not state an Article III case or controversy. (Standing requires an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant and that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.)

INS v. Elias-Zacarias (1992)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

A guerrilla organization's attempt to coerce a person into performing military service does not necessarily constitute persecution on account of political opinion under Section 101(a)(42) of the INA.

Harmelin v. Michigan (1991)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

The Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence but instead forbids only extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the crime.

McNeil v. Wisconsin (1991)

Topic: Miranda Rights

An invocation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel during a judicial proceeding does not constitute an invocation of the right to counsel derived by Miranda v. Arizona from the Fifth Amendment guarantee against compelled self-incrimination.

California v. Hodari D. (1991)

Topic: Search & Seizure

To constitute a seizure of the person, just as to constitute an arrest, there must be either the application of physical force, however slight, or submission to an officer's show of authority to restrain the subject's liberty.

Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation (1990)

Topic: Government Agencies

A party must direct its attack against a particular agency action that causes it harm, rather than seeking wholesale improvement of an agency program by court decree.

Lilly & Co. v. Medtronic, Inc. (1990)

Topic: Patents

The use of patented inventions reasonably related to the development and submission of information needed to obtain marketing approval of medical devices under the FDCA is exempt from infringement.

Burnham v. Superior Court (1990)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Service of process confers state court jurisdiction over a physically present non-resident, regardless of whether they were only briefly in the state or whether the cause of action is related to their activities there.

Employment Division v. Smith (1990)

Topic: Religion; Health Care

A law prohibiting certain drug use is constitutional under the Free Exercise Clause if it is facially neutral and generally applied. More generally, the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a law that incidentally forbids (or requires) the performance of an act that their religious belief requires (or forbids) if the law is not specifically directed to religious practice and is otherwise constitutional as applied to those who engage in the specified act for non-religious reasons.

Finley v. U.S. (1989)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A grant of jurisdiction over claims involving particular parties does not confer jurisdiction over additional claims by or against different parties.

Murray v. U.S. (1988)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The Fourth Amendment does not require the suppression of evidence initially discovered during police officers' illegal entry of private premises if the evidence is also discovered during a later search pursuant to a valid warrant that is wholly independent of the initial illegal entry.

Coy v. Iowa (1988)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

A screen placed between the defendant and the complaining witnesses, which blocked the defendant from their sight, violated the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

U.S. v. Owens (1988)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Confrontation Clause guarantees an opportunity for effective cross-examination but not successful cross-examination. It is satisfied when the defendant has a full and fair opportunity to bring out the witness' bad memory and other facts tending to discredit their testimony.

Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

Unless a permit condition serves the same governmental purpose as the development ban, the building restriction is not a valid regulation of land use.

Richardson v. Marsh (1987)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Confrontation Clause is not violated by the admission of a non-testifying co-defendant's confession with a proper limiting instruction when the confession is redacted to eliminate not only the defendant's name but also any reference to their existence.

Arizona v. Hicks (1987)

Topic: Search & Seizure

A truly cursory inspection, which involves merely looking at what is already exposed to view without disturbing it, is not a search for Fourth Amendment purposes and therefore does not even require reasonable suspicion.