One cannot overstate how stunning Scalia’s death is. When I first saw the news yesterday, it was like a punch in the gut. But not like a normal punch in the gut. It’s more like a punch in the gut that damages the internal organs. There are consequences that long outlast the initial shock.
For his family, obviously, the loss has a personal dimension that is all their own. Scalia had nine children and 28 grandchildren. On that score, Ross Douthat said it right: “Politics aside, we should all die full of years, with 28 grandchildren, in our sleep after quail hunting. Antonin Scalia RIP.” Amen.
But of course for the rest of us, his death leaves us with the reality that perhaps the most important conservative in the world has just breathed his last. As a jurist, his name enters into the pantheon of justices who made their mark as great men of consequence—Marshall, Warren, Holmes, and now Scalia. We can hardly overstate his legacy as a jurist, much less his dogged determination that the rule of law meant that laws and the Constitution must be interpreted according to their framer’s intent. On this particular point, Scalia was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and he was the voice of reason.
And now that voice is gone. And it is not clear that there is anyone on the horizon who can fill that void. And that is why those who care about the rule of law are so unsettled about his passing. I wasn’t exaggerating yesterday when I said that his death feels a little bit like the passing of King Uzziah of old. It leaves one with a sense of uncertainty and judgment. Who could possibly take his place? No one. At least not in our lifetimes.
In the meantime, we watch and grieve the passing of Scalia. His passing is another reminder that our life is a breath. It is here, and then it’s gone. Even if you live to be old and full of years, you still have to die. It’s the great equalizer that casts our minds to eternal things. And that is good for all of us.
“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away… So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” –Psalm 90:10, 12
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” –Psalm 20:7