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Sympathy for the Devil

Steve Brodner — Antonin Scalia

Readers, it’s been a momentous few weeks for our nation’s governing bodies, and in light of the political turmoil the country now faces, today I’ll be addressing your questions regarding the death of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Many of you have expressed concern over what might be the proper behavior in the wake of Scalia’s passing. Here, for example, is an anguished cry for help from one decorous (yet onanistic) advice-seeker.

Since Justice Scalia died on a hunting trip in Texas, I have been torn between feeling solemn respect for someone I hated with the light of a thousand suns, and pouring champagne down my gullet while masturbating to CNN reports of his death on a permanent news feed. So I wonder, how does one mourn this stupidbag devil incarnate with the proper modicum of respect?

Respect is a reasonable (dare I say “kind”?) impulse. And since respect is a function of dignity, to show respect for even the most loathsome of the recently deceased is to comport oneself with stately composure.

But in casual or private settings, one may still feel torn, morally speaking, over this ultimate form of schadenfreude. Consider the dilemma of this conscience-stricken correspondent:

Human trash golem Antonin Scalia just died. My natural instinct is to crack open a refreshing can of beer drink and celebrate the accelerated crumbling of an empowered ideology of bigotry and oppression. Yet the corpse is still warm, and it feels contra my Catholic sensibilities to openly hoot and holler at a human being’s death—even if that human being did terrible things to millions of people. So what do I do? How do I rationalize my rejoicing?

Both readers seek a noble path: the former asks what is right, and the latter what is good. They share an ambivalence, of course, because Antonin Scalia was a revolting human being—so revolting, dear readers, that I give you all cartes blanches to perfect your développés upon his grave. Don’t forget to point the toe.

And why, exactly, is it okay to be openly delighted that Antonin Scalia is dead? It’s true that under normal circumstances, expressing joy at the death of another is both unkind and inconsiderate, but Scalia meets the criteria for morbid celebration.

More flip celebrants of the man’s expiry might point out that a vulgar eulogy is poetically fitting for a prig like Scalia. He was an absurd prude, who as recently as 2013 decried the use of “the f-word” in television and movies, particularly by “ladies.”

But the world is full of cranky prudes, and his distaste for salty language—sexist though it may be—is not the strongest justification for popping open the champagne the day he popped off. No, we are entitled to guiltlessly rejoice in his demise because Scalia was no civilian piece of shit; Scalia was specifically the sort of piece of shit who used his draconian position of power to make the world a worse place.

Some choice moments in his career include:

• Describing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racist discrimination in voting and is considered the most significant piece of civil rights legislation ever passed, as a “racial entitlement.”

• Defending criminal sodomy laws.

• Suggesting that “hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes” could be covered under the right to bear arms.

• Defending Arizona’s laws providing for the deportation of immigrant children—even though they conflicted with federal statutes—and citing laws that had been used to deport freed slaves to do so.

• Arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment shouldn’t be used to defend women, since sex discrimination is a “modern invention.”

• Weaseling his way into a justification for racial discrimination in schools, saying, “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a slower track school, where they do well.”

Note the strategic, self-distancing rhetoric in that last ruling. That was the supposedly fearless and slashing jurist’s MO: citing an amorphous “those who contend,” or deferring to the language of a legal brief, and thereby absolving himself of any personal or moral responsibility by imagining himself as nothing more than a dutiful interpreter of the Constitution. It’s not personal, you see; he’s just being loyal to the sacred dogma of originalism.

However, Arnim Johnson, a former student of Scalia’s at the University of Chicago, recently came forward on Facebook to correct any misapprehension that Scalia was simply a humble steward of the founding generation’s deep thoughts:

Scalia was a law professor of mine, and was on the faculty of the University of Chicago the entire three years I attended. The law school is one of the smallest in the country, housed in one building, and relatively intimate as graduate schools go. While I was there, Scalia was outed as a blatant racist to the extent that the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA) chapter brought it to the attention of acting Dean Norval Morris in several meetings.

Scalia flunked every black student who took his classes that year. Nobody flunks courses in elite law schools. It’s unheard of. He flunked one brother so badly, it skewered his grade average, and he became the first, last, and only student in the history of the school to repeat first year. That man went on to become a respected military judge.

Ultimately, no action was taken because the source of the information was private, confidential and privileged, and Scalia’s racist attitude and actions toward black students could be plausibly denied, but just barely. He stuck with his story that he had graded blindly, but it came out that Scalia had done the same thing when he was on the faculty at the University of Virginia. However, Scalia was an academic star actively politicking for a federal judgeship with national political connections, as well as being quite personable. The school administration passed on taking any action, since the actual facts regarding his intent could not be adduced in a tribunal.

However, what he thought of black people was indisputable, and believe me it was nothing nice. Being a swarthy son of poor Sicilian immigrants, and intent on becoming an all-American white man, he was consumed with putting as much space between himself and Negroes as possible, and becoming an honorary member of the WASP elite.

There you have it. Scalia wasn’t merely “stagnant,” or even “a product of his time.” As a so-called constitutional originalist, he didn’t only prop up the small ideas of long-dead defected aristocrats as the bedrock of American civic life—he was an aggressively regressive “activist judge,” who fought tooth and nail against any meaningful rights that might be extended to less fortunate and/or historically disadvantaged Americans. He did so by distorting the language of his sacrosanct Constitution even when the document could be interpreted to advance more humane, civilized ends. And that’s because he was a shitty, bigoted person.

Antonin Scalia lived a comfortable, accomplished, and generally healthy life, dying just a few weeks short of his eightieth birthday. No great misfortune befell the man. Death simply came for him as it does for us all—though notably, he evidently met his maker while on a junket funded by a grateful defendant in an age-discrimination suit the Supreme Court declined to hear last term. With any luck, his departure marks the end of a nasty reactionary force in our judiciary.

So yes, gentle reader: You may rejoice! And if some po-faced scold tries to shame you with some variation of “how would you feel if people celebrated your death?” you might remind them that the bastard’s in the ground, and his feelings can no longer be hurt. Or if you’re feeling sassy, just repeat after me: “I hope to live so my enemies breathe a sigh of relief the second I die, and wait until I’m in the ground before feeling safe enough to cheer.”

In sum: have a glass of champagne, and again, don’t forget to point the toe.