These two sayings have been bouncing around in my head: Thumper’s Mother* — “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all;” Alice Roosevelt Longworth — “If you can’t say something good about someone, come sit right here by me.”
Many people, possibly casting about for something nice to say, praise Scalia’s “fine legal mind” or words to that effect. But that seems to me like eulogizing someone for having really good looking toes. Or excellent hair. Your brain is just another body part. The fact that it worked quickly, or generated scathing bons mots, or was especially astute at plumbing the intentions of the long-dead committee who stapled together our Constitution, seems secondary or tertiary or hundred-ary to how you used your brain. (Or your feet. Or your . . . hair?) On that score, it is very hard to find anything good to say. Scalia’s jurisprudence insulted and excluded LGBT and Black Americans, closed the courthouse doors on non-corporate citizens, and sent hundreds of our fellow human beings to their death at the hands of our own states. And often that fine mind of his refused to stop with a legal analysis of why our LGBT friends and family should not be able to marry or why universities should not be permitted to open their doors a bit wider for people whose great-grandparents WE HELD IN CHAINS. So often, especially in dissent, he used that fine mind to craft scathing insults for those who disagreed with him.
He was a bully, and he used his powerful brain the way a bully uses his powerful fists. We would not eulogize a bully for his awesome fists.
There is no universe in which Antonin Scalia could have been considered a good person. Honestly, I would have trouble eulogizing a liberal judge who decided every case just the way I would, but insulted and demeaned his sibling judges, the litigants before him, and his fellow human beings.
Am I speaking ill of the dead? Yes, I suppose I am. But as one Tumblr philosopher noted, “we don’t speak ill of the dead in America unless they were unarmed and black.” It’s time to make that practice more inclusive.
Update: Don’t miss Lao Bao’s second comment below — and be thankful that he’s teaching our next generation!
* Oddly, I had remember this as Peter Rabbit’s mother, possibly because my father used Beatrix Potter as the source of a fair amount of conveyed wisdom.