As soon as I heard the news, I immediately dialed my grandparents to let them know — we like to keep each other up to date on current events, lest we both fall too deep into our respective “bubbles.” Upon answering the phone, however, my grandmother beat me to it. “Scalia is dead!” she happily informed me. Happily.

As our conversation progressed, I began to realize that her detestation of Justice Antonin Scalia was deep-seated and, quite honestly, justified. It’s pretty easy to see why a woman who grew up in the Jim Crow South would take objection to a Supreme Court justice who claimed in court that he was “just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer (African Americans). Maybe it ought to have fewer.”

Still, I have a moral problem with celebrating the death of any human being — especially one whose only crime was disagreeing with me (on about every topic imaginable, but that’s beside the point). In America, we pride ourselves on freedom of speech. Underlying this concept is the idea that free speech guarantees all of our nation’s voices are heard and valued, on both sides of the political spectrum. When I recognized that Justice Scalia’s views weren’t outliers in our greater contemporary society — that is to say, many Americans shared the same values he stood for and defended — I began to at least wonder if maybe he did deserve a spot on the bench.

Cultures do, however, change a lot over time. When Justice Scalia was nominated by former president Ronald Reagan in September 1986, the American political landscape was vastly different than its current-day form. In 1986, the same year Scalia was appointed, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld an anti-sodomy law that banned homosexual acts in the state of Georgia. Today, however, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage (in comparison, just 35 percent supported it 10 years ago).

These numbers seem to suggest that Scalia’s presence on the court, while maybe it made sense when he was appointed, didn’t make sense in 2016. However, that argument ignores the reality that 39 percent of Americans still do not feel that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. While that is 11 percent shy of a majority, it stills shows that a large section of U.S. citizens hold views that Scalia defended. Without him on the court, would their voices have been heard and considered. It’s not that I think basic rights should be left to the tyranny of the majority, but at the end of the day, we do live in a democracy where these issues are discussed. 

All of this is to say that despite the vitriol surrounding Justice Scalia, he was not the boogeyman we often paint him to be. Rather, he is a product of our democracy, and all he did was ensure that all of our country’s voices were heard. At the end of the day, I try not to forget that just because I didn’t agree with many of Scalia’s core tenets, others did agree with him. And they have just as much of a right as I do to be represented on the bench.

Jason Rowland is a senior editorial page editor.

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