When I first heard of Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing away from a heart attack this past week, I first thought of how sad for America to lose such a moral based judge. Yet, it is hard to ignore that Justice Scalia went to face his Maker, and his Maker is not going to be as pleased with him as are many Americans were. Sure, he stood up for moral values and even took the mockery of very wicked people for having Christian values. Even so, Scalia will be like many who will be judged by the Supreme Judge of the world, Jesus Christ, and be found wanting. So, if you will, let us judge righteous judgment and see if you might be in his shoes when you stand before the Lord (Jn 7:24).
Let us examine Jude Scalia’s life as it was known by biographers. Appointed by Ronald Reagan, the full Senate debated Scalia’s nomination only briefly, and confirmed him with a vote of 98–0 on September 17, 1986 making him the first Italian American to serve on the Supreme Court. In Scalia’s 30 years he ruled on a variety of politically charged subjects such as abortion, gay right, and civil rights.
Scalia himself ranks among the most influential Justices in American history, alongside such figures as John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and William Brennan. He was admired and revered by both political parties for his intelligence and his high moral values.
When Scalia joined the court, in 1986, the leading school of constitutional interpretation was the “living Constitution”—the claim that the meaning of the document evolves with changes in American society. Scalia brought with him the concept of “originalism”—that the Constitution should be interpreted as its eighteenth-century framers understood it. In practical terms, originalism gives constitutional sanction to conservative politics. It amounts to no protection for abortion rights, no recognition of gay rights, and no sanction for affirmative action or protective legislation to benefit racial minorities and women. Over three decades, Scalia won more than he lost, and originalism remains ascendant among political conservatives.
In his most significant decision for the court’s majority, District of Columbia v. Heller, in 2008, Scalia transformed the understanding of the Second Amendment. Reversing a century of interpretation of the right to bear arms, he announced that individuals have a constitutional right to possess handguns for personal protection. The Heller decision was so influential that even President Obama, whose politics differ deeply from Scalia’s, has embraced the view that the Second Amendment gives individuals a constitutional right to bear arms.
It is worth noting that on the constitutional issues Scalia cared most about—overturning Roe v. Wade and ending affirmative action—he never found a majority. Scalia was a voice for conservative political views throughout his entire tenure. He voted for gutting the Voting Rights Act, and for deregulating political campaigns in Citizens United and subsequent cases. In a more controversial opinion, he was in the majority in Bush v. Gore, which ended the recount of the Florida vote in the 2000 Presidential election. In essence, his vote actually elected a President who had lost the popular vote. It is worth noting that he voted against the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) several times in a minority view.
There are four liberals—Ginsburg, Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan (of whom Scalia encouraged President Obama to appoint because of his respect and friendship for her)—and three remaining hardcore conservatives—Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito—who are usually joined by Anthony Kennedy. Most likely, no matter which party wins the upcoming election, no one will be appointed who will even approach the intelligence and conservative values of Scalia.
It is easy to see why those in America who still have moral values feel a sense of loss with the passing of Judge Scalia. Yet, his life reminds me of a higher court case which Scalia himself is facing even as I write. In Matthew 7:21-23 we find that court case and it mirrors what he might also say to the Lord. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity”.
Yes, Scalia on this wicked planet may have appeared to be righteous, but was he righteous before God? He might have been a conservative in a political world of lies and deceit, but was he as conservative as God’s Word requires? He was a master at understanding the United Constitution and giving his judgments concerning such matters, but was he a master at understanding the law of Christ? Jesus said many will say to him in that day as they stand before him pleading for their very life: Have I not done many worderful works? And the answer will be yes, but they are not the works of God. Jesus will say to Mr. Scalia, you belonged to the Catholic church which I did not build, and obeyed a gospel which I did not die for, and continued in a doctrine which was not divinely inspired. Then will Scalia hear the final verdict of his life: “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. And there shall be no appeals to be made and no more arguments heard.
Having moral values is a great thing for a Christian to possess, but morality is just the beginning of what eventually makes up a saved individual. Yes, many have said good things about Justice Scalia and rightfully so. However, Jesus warned us: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk 6:26). The works of man do not save us (Eph 2:8,9) It is the works of God which save us (Eph 2:10).
Faith is a work of God: Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent (Jn 6:28,29).
Repentance is a work of God: “For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death (1 Cor 7:10). Notice that though faith is a work of God, yet faith without works is dead (Jam 2:20). We must go beyond faith in order to be saved.
Baptism is also a work of God which in coherence with faith saves us (Mk 16:16). Not the baptism which Justice Scalia believed in: “sprinkling or pouring” and that of infants as well. The baptism of the New Testament was immersion and that by a believing heart, a confessing mouth, and a repentant spirit (Acts 8:36-39). Like faith, baptism (immersion) is also called a work of God. “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:11,12). James tells us, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (Jam 2:24). As Martin Luther wrote concerning faith and baptism, “Yes, it is true that our works are of no use for salvation. Baptism, however, is not our work but God’s.” This was not only his opinion but also the opinion of Christ and his apostles. An opinion that I believe that even Justice Scalia would appreciate once he heard and understood it.
Don’t make the mistake of Justice Scalia and countless others who believe that the works of man justifies or saves a person. It didn’t save the many Jesus spoke of, it won’t save Justice Scalia, and it won’t save you and I today.