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Allen Mendenhall on a New Book on Justice Scalia
Michael Ramsey

At Law & Liberty, Allen Mendenhall (Faulkner): A (Mostly) Misbegotten Attempt to Take Scalia’s Measure (reviewing The Conservative Revolution of Antonin Scalia (David A. Schultz & Howard Schweber, eds., Lexington 2018))).  From the discussion:

No consensus view emerges from these wide-ranging essays on everything from Scalia’s contributions to administrative law to his Senate confirmation hearings. Nor are the essays  universally admiring. On the contrary, most of them are critical. “Was Antonin Scalia a sissy when it came to administrative law?” Schultz asks—unprofessionally, in my view. Mary Welek Atwell of Radford University scrutinizes Scalia’s opinions in cases about race and gender, highlighting his apparent “comfort” with the “patriarchal, hierarchical” elements of the Roman Catholic Church, and grandly declaring that Scalia “sympathized more with those who were trying to hold on to their privilege by excluding others than with those who sought to be included.”

Is that so? And is it so that Scalia, in the words of contributor Henry L. Chambers, Jr., of the University of Richmond School of Law, “read statutory text relatively simply”? What a relatively simple claim! Scalia’s Reading Law (2012), coauthored with Bryan Garner, outlines principles or canons for interpreting statutes and legal instruments; it has become a landmark in the field, having been cited in hundreds of cases and over a thousand law review articles in the seven years since its release. While it aims to simplify hermeneutics, providing sound methodological guidance to interpreters of legal texts, it is by no measure simple.


Most of the critiques in this book, in contrast to those just cited, are responsibly researched and tonally reserved. No reasonable person expects scholarly assessments of a controversial jurist’s legacy to be an exercise in hagiography. On the other hand, such assessments should avoid coming off like intemperate outbursts.

The 18 contributors come from a range of disciplines. Only three are law professors; two are professors of criminal justice; two are doctoral candidates; and one clerks for a federal judge. Equally diverse are the essays’ methodological approaches. The most distinctive belongs to Timothy R. Johnson, Ryan C. Black, and Ryan J. Owens, who in a coauthored chapter attempt to examine empirically—with graphs and figures—Scalia’s influence on the behavior of his Court colleagues during oral argument. Whether they succeed is a determination better left to experts in quantitative research.

And here is the book description from Amazon:

Many hoped or feared that Antonin Scalia’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1986 would guarantee a conservative counter-revolution that would reverse the liberal jurisprudence of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren and which was continued to some extent under the Burger Court though the influence of Justice William Brennan. In addition, President Reagan described Scalia’s nomination as part of a project to remake the role of the Court, promote an interpretive approach of originalism, and shift authority and discretion to the States. Yet by the time of his death in 2016 it was unclear to what extent Scalia had effected the legal, institutional, or political revolutions that had been anticipated. While the Court did move to the right doctrinally, and reversed or modified many Vinson-Warren-Burger precedents, Scalia’s influence on constitutional jurisprudence turned out to be far less than it could have been, and his ability to persuade other Justices to adopt his legal views—both substantively and methodologically—was less than many mainstream media accounts recognize. Scalia’s institutional and political legacies are similarly complex: he was neither as transformative a figure as some of his allies might have hoped nor so unimportant as some of his detractors might have wished. The fact that his death and the controversy surrounding his replacement is so intense speaks to the fragile legacy that Scalia really has had on the Supreme Court after 30 years. This book will assess Scalia’s legacy in an edited volume that assembles leading legal and political science scholars who will evaluate his impact across a range of jurisprudential, institutional, and political issues.

But, $102.40 a copy!  And I thought I got a bad deal on my book pricing.