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Books, Arts & Manners

The Essential Scalia

Today is the publication day of a fantastic new collection of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s writings on the Constitution, the courts, and the law.

The book is called The Essential Scalia, and is edited by two of the justice’s former clerks who are now important legal thinkers in their own right—Judge Jeffrey Sutton and (my friend and former colleague) Edward Whelan. Its selections are drawn from Scalia’s many opinions, speeches, essays, and other writings, and organized into a few key themes: principles of interpretation, constitutional and statutory interpretation, administrative law, civil liberties, judicial power, and the like.

But this is far from a specialized volume for lawyers. It is an education in Americanism, and in the distinct and central place that the law and the Constitution have in the life of our republic. To read it is to grasp what a judge ought to be—not only because that question was often Scalia’s explicit subject, but also because his legal writings are a model of the form, and an example of why we need judges who understand their role and will not shirk from it.

And of course, for all the gravity and seriousness of that subject, Scalia’s writing makes learning from him a joy. His clarity is enlivened by his wit, and the two always work together in the service of his arguments. In fact, I walked away from this book with a sense that Scalia’s constitutionalism and his talents as a writer are connected in a deeper way still: They are booth rooted in an appreciation for the given world and in a sense that we should protect the best of what we have inherited by making proper use of it.

It’s a deep and subtle insight, and Scalia works it out into a kind of philosophy of law, even as he applies it to the intricacies of particular cases and circumstances. Watching his mind at work is a joy. And this collection not only puts his essential legal writings in once place but also helps us appreciate why the man himself was so essential. Well worth your while.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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