James Rosen is currently the chief White House correspondent for Newsmax, the cable news and digital media company founded by Christopher Ruddy. For nearly two decades, you’ll remember him serving as Washington correspondent for Fox News.
Polished, erudite, and witty, the intrepid reporter is known for his vast network of sources. As it turns out, one of the many relationships Mr. Rosen forged and enjoyed over the years was with the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away in 2016. Rosen and Scalia’s lunches were off the record, but the reporter’s affinity and admiration for the famed jurist only grew over the years, so much so that he decided to devote part of the last five years of his career writing a sweeping biography on his friend.
SCALIA: Rise to Greatness, 1936-1986, chronicles the first fifty years of Justice Scalia’s life, ending just as he’s sworn in on September 26, 1986. A second book detailing his extraordinary court years is expected to be published in 2025.
While previous biographers of Scalia wrote with an antagonistic edge, Rosen makes no apologies for lauding and capturing the justice exactly as he was – a soaring intellect who wasn’t afraid to call things as he saw them – and, when it came to his fidelity to the United States Constitution, enjoyed “a lifelong obsession with originalism.”
“My burden is not to show that originalism is perfect, but that it beats the other alternatives, and that, believe me, is not difficult,” Scalia once quipped. “I will stipulate that [originalism] is not perfect … [but] in ease of lawyerly application, never mind legitimacy and predictability, it far surpasses the competition.”
One of the many charms and intrigues of Rosen’s work are the countless original conversations he had with Scalia and others, and newly uncovered documents he references to show how the only son of Sicilian immigrants with humble means somehow made it to the highest court in the land.
Good biographies don’t just report facts and stats – they tell stories that reveal or shed light on why and how the subject evolved, grew, and eventually rose (or fell). To better understand what was behind Justice Scalia’s unwavering commitment to the text of the Constitution, we discover that his father taught Romance languages at Brooklyn College. To Professor Scalia, the text mattered – and it meant what it said and said what it meant. The son was watching, listening, and maybe even taking notes.
This was even more the case when it came to the Scalia family’s devout Catholic faith. To them, like us, the Scriptures were inerrant and infallible. Though not a sacred document, the Constitution, like the Bible, is to be interpreted as it was written and not changed or edited to suit one’s own fancy or feed a personal agenda.
But perhaps the most powerful and telling section of SCALIA comes when Rosen reveals a transformative moment for the justice at end of his senior year at Georgetown University.
Just prior to graduation, then “Nino Scalia” sat before his history professor, Dr. Walter Wilkinson, for his comprehensive examination. Here is how the late justice remembered the incident. He called it “The best lesson I ever learned.”
I did, if I may say so myself, a smashingly good job. As the time for the examination was almost at hand, Dr. Wilkinson asked me one last question, which seemed to me a softball. Of all the historical events you have studied, he said, which one in your opinion had the most impact upon the world? How could I possibly get this wrong? There was no obviously single correct answer. The only issue was what good answer I should choose.
The French Revolution perhaps? Or the Battle of Thermopylae—or of Lepanto? Or the American Revolution? I forget what I picked, because it was all driven out of my mind when Dr. Wilkinson informed me of the right answer—or at least the right answer if I really believed what he and I thought I believed.
Of course it was the Incarnation. Point taken. You must keep everything in perspective and not run your spiritual life and your worldly life as though they are two separate operations.
Justice Scalia was criticized by many people, but never because he was a hypocrite or failed to live up to his faith. He never tried to hide it, either. It followed him wherever he went, and he didn’t quite mind if someone found that offensive.
“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and he has not been disappointed,” he told a conference full of Catholics back in 2012. “If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”
Secularists may scoff at the idea of the Virgin Birth and God coming to earth in the form of a helpless baby – and that baby growing up to die and save us from our sins – but let them squawk and sow scorn. The Incarnation changed everything. It also changed Justice Scalia’s life – and yours and mine, too.