News of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death this past week struck both a legal and political chord in news media outlets around the country. The 79 year old originalist was a fierce defender of strict constitutional interpretation and had a no-nonsense attitude and blunt style that many either loved or hated.
Though he almost always sided with his right leaning compatriots on social issues, Scalia moved to the left when it came to criminal defense. In the seminal case of Crawford v. Washington, Scalia wrote for the majority that the defense must have the opportunity to cross any unavailable witness whose statements are admitted as evidence. Previously, such statements could be admitted by a judge even if there had been no opportunity for cross examination. Later, in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, Scalia wrote that defendants had a right to confront lab technicians under the confrontation clause. Here in Northern Virginia, this case has been successful in giving the Commonwealth another hurdle to overcome in order to successfully convict for a DUI charge.
Scalia often joked that he should be the “poster child of the criminal defense bar”, and for good reason. The Constitution is steadfast in its protection of criminal defendants and Scalia did not deviate from its intentions. Here’s hoping that his replacement continues that legacy.