By Alexander Stringer
On 13 February Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a man that had served on the bench since the time of Reagan, was found dead at 79. While Congress, the President, and those looking to succeed him took to fighting over the specifics of how to replace the deceased Justice, many glossed over his legacy, which extended far from just ruling of major decisions into the realm of foreign affairs.
Perhaps the most direct role Justice Scalia had in international affairs was when he sided with the majority in Medellin v Texas, concerning the arrest and sentencing of a Jose Medellin, an illegal immigrant, for the rape and murder of two underage girls in Texas. The ruling stated that the Vienna Convention was not self-acting upon the states until signed into law by Congress, and thus did not apply in this case. Further, the Court argued that the rulings of the International Court of Justice had no sway on the nation until consented to by Congress.
This vote has had massive precedent in foreign policy, as it completely hemorrhaged the ability of the President to enforce treaties and other international agreements without first gaining the consent of Congress, effectively taking away one of the powers assigned within the Constitution, as effectively the “consent of two-thirds of the Senate” was broadened to the whole of the Capital.
While the Medellin case was profound in impact, Justice Scalia was but a member of the majority. Indeed his most profound impact on foreign affairs came from outside of the chambers, when he flexed his rhetorical muscles in the Press.
During a debate with Justice Breyer, Scalia said that citation of decisions in foreign high Courts in U.S. cases was a dangerous practice, going so far as to say that “if you told the Framers of the Constitution that what we’re after is something that would be just like Europe, they would have been appalled.”
Continuously, Justice Scalia would mention that the actions of the European courts, specifically in abortion and the death penalty, have absolutely no legal precedent in the States. It took Justice Kennedy’s deliverance of the opinion of the court in Roper v Simmons, which barred the death penalty in juveniles, where the Justice cited the fact that the precedent had been long held in Europe as a major influence on the decision, for Justice Scalia to take up the cry against foreign influence in the American judicial system, but he would continue to decry the practice until his passing.
While many looked at Antonin Scalia for his partisan views on the bench, be that considered good or bad, often the debate over the man will never progress past these views unless to further talk about his off-the-cuff remarks in interviews. That is a sorrowful practice, as the man did far more for the judicial system than just promote conservative values.
Antonin Scalia served as a pillar of pure American judicial practices, making sure that outside powers could not sway the laws and practices of the United States, and for that he should be lauded.