The Optimist: For Scalia, Textualism Was a Matter of Trust

Document Type


Publication Title


Publication Date




The recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia has produced a flood of commentary about nearly every conceivable feature of the man’s life. For good reason. Scalia was the most consequential American judge of at least the past fifty years, and possibly since Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Many have remarked on his interpretive legacy of textualism and originalism. Scalia was a pioneer in making others see that the raw materials of legal interpretation—words—limit the range of meaning that a judge can extract from them. Others have noted his pungently elegant writing style, which blended the virtues of direct, clear, brilliantly colorful, and incisive prose in equal measure. My own students find these qualities appealing, but they appreciate just as much his unified, logical, and cogent vision of the Constitution. They admire the coherence of system and the lucid order that Scalia shows them in the Constitution’s structural divisions and careful allocations of power. And still others have remembered his charm, his warmth, and his capacity to disarm opponents by sheer force of personality and good humor. No Justice of the Supreme Court—and few statesmen in the history of the American Republic—ever was blessed with his panache.


Originally published at: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/optimist