Think of the Supreme Court as a small group of lawyers who meet up in Washington several times a year to discuss and debate a variety of important topics. When they finish debating, they get together with a small staff of recent law school graduates and write up their opinions. Then, if more of them say one thing rather than another, our entire legal system — whether it agrees or not — acts as if it were true.
In a debating society like this, a member with the most persuasive voice and forceful arguments can play an outsize role, and that is what Justice Antonin Scalia did for nearly 30 years before his death on Saturday. His staunch and consistent advocacy for “originalist” methods of legal interpretation — the philosophy that a law’s meaning doesn’t change over time and should be interpreted as a “reasonable person” would understand the text at the time it was passed — raised his profile on the court and made him perhaps the most influential figure in our legal system since his appointment.