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D.C. Bar Members React to Justice Scalia's Death

February 14, 2016

Antonin Scalia portraitOn February 13 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead at a Texas ranch. He was 79. 

Justice Scalia was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan and was unanimously confirmed in 1986. During his time on the bench, he was known for his sharply written opinions, quick wit, and staunch originalist views. 

As the news of Justice Scalia's death sets in, D.C. Bar members are reacting to the impact of his career and the future implications of the vacancy he leaves on the Supreme Court.

Here are some of the reactions from around the Bar:

"I'm still in shock. To say Justice Scalia was a lion of the law is no exaggeration. He was so vibrant and energetic, and such a powerful wordsmith, it never seemed conceivable that we would ever lose him."

Lindsey R. Vaala, D.C Bar secretary and senior associate at Vinson & Elkins LLP

"Much has been said, and rightly so, about Justice Scalia’s intellect and wit, and his historic influence on the Court. But I always was struck by his outsized influence on advocates. Lawyers before the Supreme Court spent a huge amount of time worrying about how Justice Scalia in particular would dismantle their arguments, or pick them apart during oral argument.  It was as though a little Scalia—whether you thought it a good Scalia or a bad Scalia—sat on a generation’s worth of shoulders, reminding lawyers of the weaknesses in their arguments, and forcing them to be better advocates as a result."

—Eric A. Shumsky, partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

"Irrespective of one’s views on the controversy surrounding Justice Scalia’s jurisprudential philosophy and approach, no one can legitimately deny his historic impact on the Court. Combining a brilliant mind with the sheer force of his outsized personality, Justice Scalia advanced originalism as a mode of constitutional interpretation for an entire generation of lawyers, judges, and law professors. Trying to keep up and match wits with his questions during oral argument was an experience of equal parts fear and intellectual exhilaration. One can only hope the Senate, after a short season of partisan hullabaloo, will not dishonor his memory by ignoring the clear constitutional text authorizing the President to nominate persons to fill vacancies on the Court (art. II, sec. 2), and the Senate to actually vote on such appointments (id.) – 'The President … shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint …Judges of the Supreme Court …'  Leaving a Supreme Court seat vacant for more than a year is unprecedented in the last century and would be 'pure applesauce.'”

Eric Zagrans, managing partner of Zagrans Law Firm LLC

"Despite his firebrand reputation, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia provided critical balance to the Supreme Court. His originalism and intellectual curiosity enriched the Court’s jurisprudence, and his conviction of principles will be greatly missed. Justice Scalia should be remembered as much for his loyal public service of almost 40 years total, in addition to a long career in academia, as he will for his wit, sharp rhetoric, and ideals."

—Timothy K. Webster, D.C. Bar president and partner at Sidley Austin LLP

"The vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Scalia will not only reshape the personality and workings of the Court, but will have a seismic impact on the 2016 election—still more than 8 months away. Within hours of the news, President Obama stated that he will promptly name a nominee, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell stated unequivocally that the Senate will not confirm any nominee until after the November election. This stand-off will elevate the role of the Court and constitutional law—abortion, the second amendment, affirmative action—to issues of national prominence for the rest of the year. Ironically, if the GOP-controlled Senate does not waver from its position, the result could be a justice even less palatable to conservatives. Many election handicappers predict that the Senate will flip to Democratic control in 2017, and that the Democrats now have structural and demographic advantages in presidential elections. This means that after a bruising 2016 election, the first 100 days of 2017 could be dominated by an even more polarizing fight to fill Justice Scalia's seat."

—Andrew C. Adair, former litigator, health-policy advisor 

"It was quite a shock, and he will leave a gaping hole in the Court as we've known it for so long. That said, his influence over how the Court operates will continue to be felt for years to come."

—Paul M. Smith, partner at Jenner & Block LLP

"I was completely surprised by Justice Scalia's sudden death. We have lost the firecracker Justice, and the public has lost key insight into the workings of the Supreme Court that Justice Scalia so often provided. I hope that Obama will be able to get a nomination through before the end of the year, but I fear that Congress will block his attempts. The Justice's death will bring the rhetoric in the upcoming election to a frenzy as both parties fight for control of the Court."

—Lauren Becker, government regulatory attorney


Are you a D.C. Bar member and have your own thoughts on the passing of Justice Scalia? E-mail Thai Phi Le at tle@dcbar.org. We'll be updating this story over the next several days with your reactions.