U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered Saturday by Valley jurists as a man whose at-times acerbic persona at court was in sharp contrast to the warm friendliness and humor he showed his friends, family and associates.
Scalia was found dead of apparent natural causes Saturday at a west Texas resort. He was 79.
In honor of Scalia, Fresno State President Joseph Castro ordered the school’s flags to be lowered to half-staff Saturday. The flags will be posted at half-staff daily from sunrise to sunset through the day of interment.
The darling of the right and a nemesis of the left, Scalia elicited strong reactions. His lengthy tenure put him at the forefront of some key Supreme Court decisions, including Bush v. Gore.
Marvin Baxter, retired associate justice of the Supreme Court of California and a Fresno State graduate, said Scalia was a big believer in state’s rights and believed that social evolution should occur there, and not at the federal level.
Baxter said he went to Armenia in 1995 with a delegation headed by Scalia.
“He had a very warm personality,” Baxter said. “The media portrayed him one way, but one-on-one, he was very warm.
“It’s a major loss to the court and to the country. I have no doubt that he’ll go down in history as the most influential jurist in the U.S. Supreme Court.”
I have no doubt that he’ll go down in history as the most influential jurist in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Marvin Baxter, retired associate justice of the Supreme Court of California and a Fresno State graduate
James Ardaiz, retired presiding judge of the California 5th District Court of Appeal, said Scalia was a true conservative constitutional thinker who believed that the Constitution was not a flexible guideline but a statute subject to restrained interpretation. “The country has lost a tremendous legal mind,” he said.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill said Scalia was not pretentious. “Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, you always knew he was genuine, and that he believed everything he told you,” he said.
O’Neill said he, like all federal judges, had the opportunity to dine with Supreme Court justices.
“I recall well my conversation with Justice Scalia. He was generous with his time, enjoyed laughter immensely, listened intently, spoke passionately, and absolutely loved his family. When he spoke of them, his heart was on his sleeve.”
Former federal judge Oliver W. Wanger met Scalia at educational conferences for district court judges during his time on the bench but only had fleeting interactions with him. Still, even in that limited time, Wanger said he noticed something interesting about Scalia: His private persona was totally different than the person who took colleagues and attorneys to task from the bench.
You can see when someone really loves what they do – he was bigger than life, and it permeated through his eyes like a twinkle.
Fresno attorney Tom Campagne
“He had a sense of humor and was collegial as an individual,” Wanger said. “He was someone in ordinary life who did not portray the zeal” seen as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he was a “pretty adversarial representative in his communications and he did not suffer fools lightly.”
Fresno attorney Tom Campagne tried a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in the mid-1990s about the legality of the Department of Agriculture taking money from farmers to pay for “generic advertising.” The ads would often advertise vegetables that the growers who Campagne represented didn’t grow. They wanted to use the money for specific ads for their companies.
“They’d say ‘eat red, it’s better,’ and it’s not true,” Campagne said.
He lost his case, but Scalia still managed to leave an impression.
“He just made everyone in the courtroom feel welcome,” Campagne said. “He had a warm personality – a booming personality, and you could see his eyes twinkling with enjoyment of the oral argument process. You can see when someone really loves what they do – he was bigger than life, and it permeated through his eyes like a twinkle.”
Staff writers Troy Pope and Paul Schlesinger contributed to the story.