By Bill Parry
Queens Democrats praised the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s legal brilliance but were quick to point out they did not support his conservative opinions.
Scalia was to be laid to rest Saturday morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., one week after he died of natural causes at a resort near Marfa, Texas. The body of the 79-year-old was to lie in repose at the Supreme Court Friday, where his chair and bench were draped with black wool crepe.
“I was shocked by the sudden passing of Justice Scalia,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who represents Elmhurst, where Scalia grew up. “The son of immigrants, Antonin Scalia was a larger-than-life figure and a proud son of Queens, whose hard work led to success that was emblematic of the American dream. Although I disagreed with his ideology, you had to respect his passion, patriotism and sharp legal mind.”
The so-called leader of the conservative renaissance grew up during World War II on O’Connell Court in Elmhurst, the only child of Italian immigrants. He was born in Trenton, N.J., but never lost his love of Queens. In a column he wrote for New York Magazine in 2013, Scalia recalled spending a lot of time in the schoolyard at PS 13 playing street hockey and camping out in pup tents on vacant lots around Elmhurst.
“It was a wonderful place,” Scalia wrote. “You had the subway; the world was your oyster.”
Scalia studied Latin and Greek at Xavier High School in Manhattan before attending Georgetown University. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1960, Scalia began his career at a firm in Cleveland, Ohio, and eventually served in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia to a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982 and in 1986 Reagan nominated him as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, becoming the first Italian American on the high court.
Scalia was an open opponent of any encroachment on the separation of powers, federalism and the right to life and was known for his caustic wit in writing his dissenting opinions. When Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion after the decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act last year, Scalia called it “pure applesauce.”
In announcing his death Saturday evening, Roberts called Scalia “an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he served.”
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus and chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party, said he was saddened by Scalia’s death and joined the nation in mourning his loss.
“While I might not have agreed with many of his positions over the years, there is no question he cared deeply about our country and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his decades of service,” Crowley said.
Obama vowed to name Scalia’s replacement despite calls from Senate Republicans to wait until after the presidential election. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Kentucky) pledge to block any nominee, said Sunday he expects Obama to name a “mainstream” justice who could win support with moderate Republicans.
“When you go right off the bat and say, ‘I don’t care who he nominates, I am going to oppose him’—that’s not going to fly,” Schumer said on ABC. “A lot of mainstream Republicans are going to say, ‘I may not follow this.’”
Schumer said, “While I disagreed with him on so many issues, Justice Scalia was a brilliant man with a probing mind. He was a great son of Queens with a genuine joy for life.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr