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VOL. 9 | NO. 7 | Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scalia's Memphis Visits Reflected Outspoken Supreme Court Justice

By Andy Meek

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Prior to his death Saturday in Texas at 79, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a few times in recent years brought to Memphis the intellectual combativeness and pugnacious brand of jurisprudence for which he’s long been known and for which he will be remembered.

In fact, his final words at an address in Memphis at Rhodes College in September - his grandson is a student there - left some students and attendees laughing, some shaking their heads, as they filed out.

During a question-and-answer session after his remarks, the moderator kept funneling more queries to him from the audience, sometimes apologizing for the addition of yet another to the pile. “I’m not going anywhere,” Scalia repeated, no humor in his tone.

The final question from a student wanted Scalia’s thoughts about whether it’s implied that the Constitution is worth revisiting over time, given the degree to which society changes. Scalia dismissed it out of hand, aghast at the thought that the Constitution be thought to have “a shelf life.”

He brought up the familiar thought about how “there are no stupid questions … but that was a really stupid question.”

And with that, the justice famous for his turns of phrase and the biting language of his written opinions, took his leave.

President Barack Obama said Saturday he intends to nominate a successor to Scalia on the court during his remaining months in office and expects U.S. Senate deliberation and a vote on that nominee.

That despite early word from some Republican leaders that they don't think a nominee will be approved by the court this year.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, in his first comments on Scalia's death Saturday evening, made no reference to whether Obama should or should not nominate a successor.

"Justice Scalia's death is a great loss to our country," Alexander said in a written statement. "He was a skilled jurist and a delightful man. In his opinions, he consistently did his best to keep our country true to its constitutional founding principles."

Scalia usually made headlines when he spoke away from the bench and last year's event at Rhodes was no exception. The national press jumped on things like Scalia’s comments relative to the court’s recent decision affirming same-sex marriage as a right.

Just another example, Scalia said, of the court “doing whatever it wants.”

His were the first public comments by the court outside of the court's landmark ruling on same-sex marriage made just before the Rhodes appearance.

Back in 2013, a similar encounter to the one at Rhodes. Scalia participated in a question-and-answer session at The Peabody following lunch-time remarks he gave there.

At one point, a teacher rose from the crowd and used his few moments to, instead of ask a question, praise an article Scalia wrote for The Wall Street Journal some years prior. It was an excellent article, the teacher announced, adding that he regularly shared and talked about it with his students.

There was a round of applause. Scalia had been staring down at his podium while the audience member praised him. When the comments were finished, Scalia raised his head, leaned into his microphone and responded, without smiling or laughing:

“That wasn’t a very good question.”

He then moved to the next audience member with a question.

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