Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away this weekend, spent five years as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School before beginning his work at the commanding heights of the federal judiciary.
When Scalia, an influential conservative voice on the Supreme Court, joined the faculty in 1977, the Law School had a reputation as a center of conservative legal thought. The law school was prominent in the law-and-economics movement, and the political science department had roots in the “Straussian” methodology of careful reading of original texts, a tradition that influenced Scalia’s jurisprudence.
On a personal level, UChicago appealed to the Scalias because it had a policy of paying its faculty’s children’s tuition to any college in the country up to the level of Chicago’s tuition. This benefit was significant for the Scalias, who had seven children at the time. The large and growing Scalia family lived in an old fraternity house three blocks from campus.
Scalia’s teaching repertoire at UChicago covered contracts, administrative law, constitutional law, and federal communications law, among other subjects.
In a biography by Bruce Allen Murphy, students remembered Scalia, famous as a Supreme Court Justice for his fervent and creatively written opinions, as an engaging teacher who used a mythical apple (linked, in Scalia style, to the Founding Fathers), and as the example in each of the hypothetical contracts in his Contracts class.
Scalia became the first faculty adviser to UChicago’s chapter of the Federalist Society, which, with his help and the help of fellow conservative jurist Robert Bork, evolved into one of the most influential legal organizations in the country. Founded in 1981 by conservative and libertarian law students at Yale, Harvard, UChicago, and Stanford, the Federalist Society now includes thousands of law students, practicing attorneys, and high-ranking public officials and judges.
Scalia left the Law School in 1983, when Ronald Reagan nominated him for a position on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. When Reagan nominated Scalia for a position on the Supreme Court, then-Dean of the University of Chicago Law School Gerhard Casper spoke on his behalf. Speaking from his experience supervising Scalia during his time at the Law School, Casper noted during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: “There are few jobs more challenging than the task of supervising the University of Chicago Law School faculty.”
“I am well familiar with Judge Scalia’s academic work and reasonably familiar with his judicial work. Judge Scalia poses what I would call a tenacious intellect. He is intellectually refined and takes great pleasure in measuring a problem,” Casper told the Senate committee.
In 2012, Scalia returned to the Law School to deliver the Schwartz Lecture, an event held by a distinguished lawyer or teacher experienced in the academic field or practice of public service. During his lecture, titled “The Methodology of Originalism,” Scalia advocated for his view that the Constitution has a static meaning that remains unchanged from generation to generation, a key part of Scalia’s intellectual legacy.
Geoffrey Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at UChicago, reflected positively on Scalia’s visit, praising the Justice’s generosity with his time and energy. “He’s just been great,” Stone said at the time.
In the wake of Scalia’s death, several current and former faculty members of the Law School shared their thoughts on Scalia’s legacy. Stone published his remembrances in an article in The Daily Beast. Stone’s relationship with Scalia was sometimes rocky. After Stone published a blog post connecting an anti-abortion ruling to the Catholic majority on the Supreme Court, the deeply Catholic Scalia told his biographer he would not speak at the University as long as Stone was part of the faculty.
“Though we never much agreed on anything, I liked Nino greatly as a person and as a friend, and I deeply respected his intellect,” Stone wrote, using Scalia’s nickname. “I may not miss his votes as a justice, but I will miss him. He added sparkle to the court and to the lives of those who knew him.”