Justice Antonin Scalia and the Supreme Court's Conservative Moment

By Christopher E. Smith | Go to book overview

In Harmelin v. Michigan, 87 Scalia's majority opinion declared that Michigan's law mandating a life sentence without possibility of parole for carrying more than 650 grams of cocaine did not violate the Eighth Amendment. The four dissenters ( White, Blackmun, Marshall, and Stevens) complained that Scalia's analysis obliterated the proportionality requirement that had previously been considered part of the Eighth Amendment and therefore, according to Justice White's dissent, Scalia's reasoning would endorse a state's decision to mandate life imprisonment for parking tickets. 88 Unless the proportionality requirement of the Eighth Amendment is clarified in subsequent cases, Scalia's opinion may encourage states to punish all crimes in nearly any manner that they wish, despite the fact that fewer than five justices endorsed Scalia's detailed analytical sections concerning proportionality. Some of Scalia's fellow conservatives agreed with his conclusion about the appropriate case outcome but they expressed misgivings about the dramatic implications of his analysis.


CONCLUSION

Antonin Scalia is a notable member of the Rehnquist Court whose conservative jurisprudence reflects a particular set of interpretive approaches and priorities. Scalia draws upon his judicial philosophy and his goals for the judicial branch to advance his vision of a restrained judiciary reducing its interference with the decisions and actions of the elected officials, both legislative and executive, who represent majoritarian interests in society. Scalia stands out among the conservative justices as one who is clear-sighted in his vision of the Supreme Court's role and whose outspokenness and articulate opinions enable him to influence the shape of constitutional law significantly.

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