Kirkus Reviews QR Code
AMERICAN ORIGINAL by Joan Biskupic Kirkus Star

AMERICAN ORIGINAL

The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

By Joan Biskupic

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-374-20289-7
Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The legal affairs correspondent for USA Today examines the life and legal philosophy of the Supreme Court’s most colorful, combative and controversial Justice.

Antonin Scalia did not invent the doctrine of originalism, but he has been its most prominent practitioner during his 22 years on the Court. Rejecting the notion of a so-called “living” or “evolving” Constitution and disparaging the influence of international law, Scalia has emerged as a conservative champion, decrying the meddlesome ways of Court colleagues “busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize.” Skeptical about the authority, indeed, the capacity of judges, Scalia prefers a legislative resolution of democracy’s contentious issues—abortion, affirmative action, etc.—and takes a broad view of executive power. Fluently discussing the cases he has authored and those in which he has famously dissented, Biskupic (Sandra Day O’Connor, 2005) sets out the origins of Scalia’s judicial philosophy and explains its increasing influence. The book’s real charm, however, lies in her treatment of the man. She traces the important influences on Scalia—the lessons from his immigrant parents, the centrality of his Catholic faith, the early professional experiences in the Nixon justice department—and offers a portrait of a man quite unlike any other judge. Especially against the decorous backdrop of the Supreme Court, Scalia stands out for his brashness in argument, his clever, sometimes contemptuous, prose and his willingness to express opinions in a variety of public forums. Biskupic acknowledges his intellectual brilliance but criticizes him for his tetchiness with the press, for his seeming inability to concede at least the appearance of conflicts of interest and for his willingness to depart from originalism—Bush v. Gore, anyone?—when it appears to serve his own political inclinations. Legal scholars have written more about Scalia than any other living Justice. Now, in terms of accessibility for the general reader, Biskupic gives the rest of us an inside look at what the fuss is all about.

Every bit as provocative and entertaining as the man himself.