Daily Video

February 16, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy

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Essential question

How does Justice Scalia’s voting record reflect his legacy?


United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, died of natural causes at a resort in West Texas on Saturday. The first Italian-American on the Supreme Court, Scalia was known for his conservative positions, keen intellect and quick sense of humor.

Scalia often cited the term “originalism” regarding his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. He believed decisions made by the Supreme Court should be based on the original meaning and intentions of the Constitution at the time it was written.

“It’s not (about) the politics of the country,” Scalia said of his majority decision in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case, which effectively decided the outcome of the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore in favor of Bush.

Such interpretation also led Scalia to write the majority opinion in 2008 in one of the Court’s most important decisions, finding that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms.

Since Scalia’s death was not expected, and because this is an election year, there is a political battle afoot over whether President Obama will be able to nominate a new justice.

According to the Constitution, the U.S. Senate must approve the nominee to the Supreme Court put forth by the President by a two-thirds vote. The Senate unanimously confirmed Scalia’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.

However, Republican Senate members have stated that the next president should fill the vacancy left behind by Scalia’s death and that they’ll reject any nominee by President Obama. The next president will not be in office until after the November election and inauguration in January 2017.


Key terms

U.S. Supreme Court – the highest Federal court in the U.S., holds final jurisdiction over the lower courts

jurisdiction – the power to make judgments about the law

originalism – a philosophical interpretation that emerged in the 1980s which views the Constitution’s meaning as “fixed,” a belief that the Constitution can and should be interpreted in the present based on the time it was written in the 1780s

Warm up questions (before watching the video)

1)  How many justices are there on the U.S. Supreme Court?

2)  Name the three branches of government and their role.

3)  What do you know about the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia?

4)  Who nominates justices to the U.S. Supreme Court? What must happen before someone becomes a Supreme Court Justice?

Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)

1)  Despite differences in their political ideologies and Supreme Court votes, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a close friendship with Justice Scalia. Based on the video clips, what is your impression of Justice Scalia? Is it possible to get along with someone who has different opinions from you on political and social issues?

2)  How might Justice Scalia’s theory of originalism have led him to a more conservative voting record on the Supreme Court?

3)  Why do you think some Republican Senate members want to wait until the next president to confirm the next Supreme Court justice?

4)  What kind of person would you want to see take Justice Scalia’s place on the Supreme Court?

5) Do you think the Supreme Court is the best way to make final decisions about the meaning of law? Why or why not?

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