At first, writers found good things to say of Antonin Scalia. From the day of his death (February 13, 2016), TV commentators took the he-celebrated-the-rule-of-law-despite-his-conservatism route when writing obituaries or appreciations of him. They said he was “brilliant.” This is still continuing. It was only when Scalia had been dead for twenty-four hours that writers began to say things like “shed no tears for Antonin Scalia” or “My differences with Scalia were more than political.” The kindest of these essays raised the question “how one of the most brilliant jurists of his generation went so wrong.” And then, on February 18, Salon published an essay entitled, “Scalia was an intellectual phony. Can we please stop calling him a brilliant jurist?”
This conflict between wanting to call Scalia a “brilliant jurist” and wanting to call him an “intellectual phony” is an interesting phenomenon, similar to one which I stumbled on while visiting a good friend in Essex, CT, at the beginning of the Scalia-Successor Wars. My friend and I went to the same school in Tennessee as undergraduates, and last weekend we talked about people we knew sixty years ago. The question we had to confront was, “Are we going to say nothing but nice things about these people, many of whom are dead? Or are we going to tell the truth?” We told the truth, and the several days were an enjoyable and meaningful visit for us.
The dilemma people face in these situations can be summed up in the adage, Don’t speak ill of the dead. This refusal to speak ill has a particularly damaging effect on GLBTQ people because it means that we can’t speak of what—and who—caused the pain we have experienced. We can’t find a way to full citizenship in this American republic if we can’t speak ill of our parents, teachers, political leaders, judges, mental health professionals, and all the other evil people in our lives.
I have been struck by what is apparently a need on the part of some very surprising people—Barack Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Harry Reid, among others—to be polite. When gay people are polite, the effect is often to flatter a person who, when alive, did real damage to us. This hinders our efforts to improve our lot.
Antonin Scalia, along with four of his colleagues, should be mercilessly condemned for his nakedly political decision in Bush v. Gore, and he should be condemned for his dissents in the four great LGBT decisions, which displayed his astonishing stupidity over the place of religion in a secular republic. The memory of Antonin Scalia is not to be admired. He hurt too many people. And at this moment, we ought to remember Ronald Reagan, who placed Scalia in exactly the place where his errors could do the most damage.
Grizzard, writing on DailyKos, on February 14, 2016, said this:
Death does not wash away the stench of planned cruelty. Scalia holds more moral responsibility for his decisions than the average villain. His weren’t in-the-moment mistakes made under pressure. They were calculated judgments made after hours, days, and weeks of reflection. They were opinions written with the greatest of care….
When he ruled in Lawrence [Lawrence v. Texas, whose decision overturned the anti-sodomy laws in the US], he laid the groundwork for much of the hate that’s made assaults on gay men and women a thing that we must tackle in 2016….[When] Antonin Scalia spoke and wrote, his words carried unique power that often led to death, added to prejudice, and threatened to set America back a hundred years.
This post is not really about Scalia or the Republicans or the Supreme Court or the President. It is about us, the LGBTQ community, and our need to be polite when what we should worry about is whether we are going to tell the truth about our lives.