Icon of conservative America

A Catholic traditionalist, Justice Antonin Scalia opposed abortion and gay marriage.
A Catholic traditionalist, Justice Antonin Scalia opposed abortion and gay marriage.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESS- PHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON • Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia embodied the values conservative America holds most dear, from defending the traditional family, to religion and patriotism, during the three decades he spent on the bench.

The longest-serving justice on the current court and its first ever Italian-American, Mr Scalia was eulogised after he died last Saturday, aged 79, as a towering figure of intellectual rigour with powerful personal convictions to match.

His transformative legal theories, vivid writing and personality made him a leader of a conser- vative intellectual renaissance.

He was, judge Richard Posner wrote in The New Republic in 2011, "the most influential justice of the last quarter-century".

Mr Scalia was a champion of originalism, a strict theory that views the Constitution's meaning as fixed at the time it was ratified. According to this view, there is no doubt as to the validity of the death penalty and individuals' right to bear arms.

A Catholic traditionalist, Mr Scalia was outspoken in his defence of gun rights and the death penalty, and was at times highly provocative in opposing abortion, affirmative action for minorities and the "so-called homosexual agenda".

But his affable personality contrasted with his sometimes radical ideas. He was often the only justice on the otherwise stern bench to trigger a laugh in highly technical debates.

Mr Scalia played a key role in the court's decision to stop the recount of Florida votes in the 2000 election, ultimately paving Mr George W. Bush's way to the White House. When asked about the Florida recount at public events, Mr Scalia would simply respond: "Get over it."

Born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, New Jersey, he was an exceptional student, graduating magna cum laude at Harvard Law School.

He and his wife had nine children, one of them a priest.

"Being a devout Catholic means you have children when God gives them to you, and you raise them," Mr Scalia was quoted as saying in the biography, American Original.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'Icon of conservative America'. Print Edition | Subscribe