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A son of Queens leaves unique legal legacy

By The Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia was born in Trenton, N.J. on March 11, 1936 and grew up on O’Connell Court in the Elmhurst section of Queens. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the nation’s highest court in 1986, Justice Scalia became known in his 30-year career on the Supreme Court for his religious, political and social conservatism, perhaps best illustrated by his originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Never one to shy away from controversy, the great jurist from Queens often expressed emotional, scathing dissenting opinions on key issues ranging from affirmative action and homosexuality to detainee rights in the War on Terror.

The only child of Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Scalia, a college professor, and Italian-American mother Catherine, a schoolteacher, the future legal scholar and jurist was raised in a devout Catholic family. He attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, where he was class valedictorian, and Georgetown University, where he was a champion debater and again graduated at the top of his class. He then finished Harvard Law School in 1960, after serving as an editor of the Harvard Law Review.

The first stop in Justice Scalia’s legal career was a six-year stint at the old white shoe law firm Jones Day, followed by another four years teaching law at the University of Virginia. He first entered public service during the Nixon Administration, where he served in several appointed positions, culminating in assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. He also served under President Ford, before returning to academia to teach at the University of Chicago.

It was during the Reagan administration that Antonin Scalia’s star truly began to rise. In 1982, the president appointed him as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and in 1986 nominated him to the Supreme Court. During the nomination process, he was asked few difficult questions by the Senate Judiciary Committee and was unanimously confirmed 98-0. Scalia thus became the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice of Italian ancestry.

Justice Scalia quickly staked out a position as one of the more conservative judges. His originalist beliefs dictated that his opinions were based on the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. He also believed in strict and clear lines of separation among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government and felt that no branch should exercise powers granted to another.

While he claimed that his conservative religious beliefs did not inform his decisions on the court, he found himself among the dissenters as the gay rights movement gained legal ground in the early years of the new century. Scalia was also among the minority in Grutter v Bollinger, a 2003 landmark case upholding affirmative action in the admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School. He was one of only two dissenting members in the 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case, which upheld the Fifth Amendment rights of a U.S. citizen held as an enemy combatant in the War on Terror to contest his detention.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died peacefully in his sleep in February 2016 at the age of 79, while on vacation in Texas. The chair where he sat hearing cases for nearly 30 years will be draped in black and flags will be flown at half-staff for 30 days. President Barack Obama has yet to nominate a successor.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astorialic.org.

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