Book review of 'American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia' by Joan Biskupic

(Dave Weaver/associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
Sunday, November 29, 2009


The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

By Joan Biskupic

Sarah Crichton/Farrar Straus Giroux. 434 pp. $28

Antonin Scalia's influence is stronger than ever, according to Joan Biskupic in her new biography of the Supreme Court justice. Justice Anthony Kennedy may make the difference in most of the court's 5 to 4 decisions, but what has altered the political landscape is Scalia's advancement of the originalist philosophy of judging: the idea that the best way to decide cases presenting constitutional issues is to determine what that document's provisions meant when they were formulated in the late 18th century. Originalism has drawn fire from critics, notes Biskupic, who covers the court for USA Today and used to do so for The Washington Post: She quotes Princeton University's Christopher Eisgruber as charging that "originalist judges . . . recite a lot of facts about the framers and then announce a legal conclusion remarkably consistent with their own views," which tend to be conservative. But she also points out cases in which Scalia has applied originalist reasoning to strengthen the rights of criminal defendants.

In a chapter called "Bush V. Gore: Not Over It," Biskupic covers the furor over the Supreme Court decision that in effect opened the White House door to George W. Bush in 2001. Scalia was part of the 5 to 4 majority, and "Get over it" is the remark with which he often dismisses those who question the decision at his public appearances. Biskupic quotes the justice as saying, " 'I take most of the heat for that case' . . . with a hint in his voice that he thinks that is just not fair."

-- Dennis Drabelle

© 2009 The Washington Post Company