Justice Scalia's passing a great loss says dean of NUS Law

United States judge Antonin Scalia passed away on Feb 13, 2016.
United States judge Antonin Scalia passed away on Feb 13, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - When top United States judge Antonin Scalia was asked at the National University of Singapore why he wrote dissenting judgments although they would not be followed, he quipped that he had "given up on the present generation" and wrote them for law students who represented the future.

Associate Justice Scalia - the longest serving judge on the current US Supreme Court who died on Saturday aged 79 - was described in a media report as an outsized personality who gave voice to the "values of conservative America on the Supreme Court bench, on matters of religion, family, patriotism and law enforcement," among other things.

Less than a month ago he came to Singapore under the NUS Lee Kuan Yew Distinguished Visitors Programme and gave a public lecture in which he warned against the dangers of judges acting as moral arbiters or moral experts.

He also met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and had an informal dialogue with law students, in which he addressed questions about the death penalty, his achievements and legal education.

NUS Law Dean Professor Simon Chesterman said Justice Scalia "greatly enjoyed his time here and was clearly impressed at what has been achieved," and described the judge as intellectually pugnacious, incisive and witty.


"He was also regarded as the justice most effective at using humour," said Prof Chesterman, citing a Boston University professor who calculated that "Justice Scalia was the funniest justice, earning 1.027 laughs per oral argument."

"More seriously, as Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang mentioned ... Justice Scalia is also regarded by many - including those who disagree with him - as the Supreme Court's finest writer, in the tradition of Benjamin Cardozo, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Robert Jackson.

"His footnotes alone are worth the price of admission."

"His wordsmithery includes an impressive repertoire of synonyms for what one might simply term 'rubbish.'"

Law student Loh Yi Sheng, 28 , who attended the dialogue with Justice Scalia said: "He made no pretense about his dislike for left-leaning liberalism.

"That he was unapologetic about it underscores the integrity of his convictions."

Fellow US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg - regarded as the Court's most outspoken liberal - once said of Justice Scalia, who was seen as the court's most outspoken conservative: "I disagree with most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it."

NUS Law vice-dean Eleanor Wong said: "We were shocked and saddened when we learned of his passing; he was the image of liveliness and vigour,addressed the students' questions with humour and good grace and was inspiring to many of them."

Prof Chesterman said: "NUS Law was privileged to host Justice Antonin Scalia on his visit to Singapore. His passing is a great loss."