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Friday, March 4, 2016

Who Killed Antonin Scalia?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (photo: Shawn/Flickr)
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (photo: Shawn/Flickr)

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News
 
Unofficially, as his family knew, Scalia was old, unwell, and frail

he official version of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s death at a remote Texas luxury resort during the night of February 12-13 is that he died of natural causes, in bed alone and without any witness, time of death unknown. While there’s little forensic evidence to support this or any other conclusion, there’s even less evidence to challenge it. What, after all, is not credible about a 79-year-old, overweight man with heart disease and other medical issues dying in his sleep after overindulging at a dinner party for forty people?

Scalia, unlike Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has long been secretive about his health, one of those anti-democratic traditions at the Supreme Court more honored in the breach then the observance. Even now there is no publicly available, authoritative assessment of Scalia’s health as he approached death, but various medical sources have said the longtime smoker was suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea, a damaged shoulder in need of surgery, and a general weakness that made that surgery inadvisable. One might reasonably infer that Scalia was taking medication for his conditions, including a pain killer, but confirmation of this is not easily available. The man had the look of corpulent corruption reflecting the bloated self-satisfaction of a Medici courtier.

Whatever the medical reality of Scalia’s health, the existential reality is that he outlived his Biblically-allocated three-score and ten by nine years.

Let us stipulate from the start that, as a person, Antonin Scalia may actually have been even as wonderful as so many of his friends and associates now claim. This hardly matters to public policy, good-natured people die every day without much notice. But who among those anonymities has done as much harm to constitutional law and humane principle as this democracidal jurist in a lifetime of narcissistic bench-clowning? Scalia’s raw contradictions cause cognitive dissonance for many, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg weaves them together almost surgically in her understated official comment:
Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: “We are different, we are one,” different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots – the “applesauce” and “argle-bargle” – and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions…. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer.
With artfully subtle grace, Justice Ginsburg grants Justice Scalia his “reverence” for the Constitution, she praises him for editorial precision and strews performance encomiums in his wake. And in the midst of all that, she ultimately leaves him outside the majority, where he was simply wrong. “Now and then,” as she notes, he was wrong. Magnificent as his performance art may have been, Ginsburg makes clear, he was too often wrong on the merits.

Why handle the death of a controversial political partisan so casually?

Not every hotelier expects a controversial political celebrity suddenly to drop dead in the presidential suite, but the “historic 4-star” Cibolo Creek Ranch, “established 1857,” which has a celebrity-rich clientele, seems never to have planned for this remote but obvious possibility during more than 20 years of resort operation. In our current political zeitgeist, it takes no deep thought to imagine that the sudden, unexpected death of a polarizing Supreme Court justice might invite radical speculation as to what actually happened and why. So what planet do those who “investigated” Scalia’s death live on? None of them have yet offered a credible explanation for treating Scalia’s death as something less than a run-of-the-mill event best handled with a casual, detail-free approach with no conscientious record-keeping for an event that was an obvious, open invitation to conspiracy theorizing (made all the easier the more details are unknown or uncertain).

Why did resort-owner John Poindexter, Texas law enforcement, Texas judicial authorities, the U.S. Marshals Service, and everyone else involved in post mortem events perform in such a lackadaisical manner so indifferent to professional protocol? Yes, they all apparently acted within the law, but the law didn’t the require attention to detail that should have been a no-brainer in such a high-profile death: treat it as a crime scene until it’s clear there’s no crime. Here is the apparent timeline of Scalia’s death as handled by all these unprofessionals:
  • Friday, Feb. 12: Scalia and an unidentified lawyer [C. Allen Foster, 74, prominent Washington lawyer, according to Washington Post Feb. 24] travelling with him fly gratis in an unidentified private plane from Houston. The plane lands on the private, mile-long airstrip at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, where the justice and the lawyer are guests of the owner, 71-year-old billionaire John Poindexter (who had a 2015 age discrimination case against him before the Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case).

  • Friday evening: Scalia attends a dinner party with some 40 other guests of Poindexter (all still unnamed). Poindexter later says Scalia enjoyed himself and went up to his room about 9 p.m.

  • Friday evening/Saturday morning: Scalia dies, time unknown.

  • Saturday, Feb. 13, around 8:30 a.m.: According to Poindexter, other guests were up and he went to wake Scalia; the door was locked and Scalia did not respond, so he was left undisturbed. (It is not clear whether anyone accompanied Poindexter.)

  • Saturday, around 11:30 a.m.: According to Poindexter, he returned to Scalia’s room with the unnamed lawyer travelling with Scalia. They found Scalia lying on his back in bed, his hands folded on top of the sheets, his body cold, without a pulse (who took his pulse is unknown). Poindexter later told the San Antonio Express-News: “We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. Everything was in perfect order. He was in his pajamas, peacefully, in bed. His bed clothes were unwrinkled. He was lying very restfully. It looked like he had not quite awakened from a nap.” (Poindexter would later say that the pillow was not “over” Scalia’s face, but “above” his head; there are no known photographs of the deathbed until after the body was removed; the room was not treated as a crime scene.)

  • Saturday, mid-day: Poindexter, a Viet-Nam vet with unknown medical expertise, says he next consulted by phone with a nearby doctor, concluding that attempts at resuscitating Scalia would have been futile, so no attempt was made. Poindexter has not said who else, if anyone, had access to Scalia’s room.

  • Saturday, mid-day: After deciding against resuscitation, Poindexter calls the U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for security for Supreme Court justices (Scalia had declined having security on this trip). After some difficulty, Poindexter reaches the Marshals Service and is told to let none of the guests leave.

  • Saturday, mid-day: Poindexter also calls County Sheriff Danny Dominguez, who is the first responder on the scene. He determines that Scalia’s death did not involve foul play. It is not known how he determined that.

  • Saturday, around 2:30 p.m.: The first of several U.S. Marshals arrives at the ranch by helicopter and the compound is “secured.”

  • Saturday, mid-afternoon: Poindexter calls local judicial officials for inquest and death certificate. After two others refuse, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara heads for the ranch. The sheriff and the marshals there tell her there was no foul play and her presence is unneeded. She turns back and issues a death certificate by phone. All this is arguably legal under Texas law.

  • Saturday afternoon/evening: Marshals eventually move Scalia’s body to a funeral home, but only after a decoy hearse is dispatched to mislead reporters on the scene. (According to The New York Times of Feb. 21, the Marshals Service released a timeline detailing their activities handling Scalia’s death, but a search of the U.S. Marshals website and multiple phone calls elicited no such document or even confirmation of its existence. Sidestepping the way Scalia’s death was handled, a marshals spokesman told the Times: “Our folks never indicated that anything seemed amiss or unusual, but that wasn’t our role…. We weren’t there to make any determination like that, so I’m not going to be drawn into that.”

  • Saturday, around 8 p.m.: County Judge Guevara, having spoken with Scalia’s doctor directly by phone and with his family indirectly (by phone through the lawyer travelling with the justice), satisfies herself that Scalia’s health was marginal and that his family does not want an autopsy. She rules that his heart stopped from natural causes and does not order an autopsy. (So far as is known, no one asked the judge to order an autopsy. One of the justices of the peace contacted earlier said later that if it had been up to her, she would have ordered an autopsy.)
Clearly the handling of Scalia’s death, from the discovery to the removal of his body from Cibolo Creek Ranch, was sloppy and tone deaf, riddled, as it were, with argle-bargle and applesauce, leaving lots of questions unanswered. That’s unarguable, but is it material?

Nut circle fringe accuses President Obama of Justice-cide in Texas
For some, unanswered questions were direct evidence that Scalia was assassinated. “This is the season of treason…. This is the takedown of America, this is the globalist takeover,” broadcast Alex Jones on Infowars.com, where he wondered if Justice Clarence Thomas would be next. Jones said he’s stayed frequently at Cibolo Creek Ranch. Not surprisingly, there are assorted observers (i.e., Breitbart, The Blaze, Savage Nation, Liberty News Now, Jon Pappoport, Drudge Report, and others) questioning the official story and/or offering accounts of Scalia being murdered: by smothering (the “pillow over his head”); by a heart-attack bullet (no one looked for a wound); by poison (someone meddled with his medication or something); or by satanic ritual (the International Order of St. Hubertus, a secret society of hunters, was at the ranch). Usually the killing is blamed on President Obama, but one version pins it on Hillary Clinton, whose motive is to appoint Obama to the Supreme Court.

Another argues that the Bush family killed Scalia because he was about to reveal the truth about 9/11.

None of this is very surprising, I suppose, after all these years, not at the internet level. But the mindset reaches deeper into our culture than one might suspect, to Vermont’s oldest weekly, the Vermont Standard in Woodstock, a largely unedited broadsheet that serves as an amplified shopper and bills itself as “voted best small newspaper in New England.” Citing John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief (an oil-driven conspiracy killing of two Supreme Court justices) for context, one of the Vermont Standard’s weekly columnists wrote:
Now Scalia is gone. His body was barely cold when it was announced that he had died of “natural causes.” There had been no time for an autopsy, and there may never be one. There are suggestions that he was found with a pillow over his face and his hands neatly folded. (Echoes of the Vince Foster alleged suicide?) Some think this may have been done as a message to others who dared to oppose the march towards an all-powerful central government…. One writer has speculated that Scalia may have been “eliminated” because “he stood between Obama’s goals for an America without a Constitution, without Second Amendment Rights, without rights for the unborn?”… an important jurist has died seemingly before his time…. There is a decided “Pelican Brief” element to this story, which is difficult to ignore.
Actually it’s not so difficult to ignore. So far the evidence includes no smoking gun, never mind any bullet holes. The case for murdering Scalia is no stronger than the case that he committed suicide: Scalia had sleep apnea, he had a machine that helped him live and breathe through the night, he had not used it, he had ignored it – on purpose…?

“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” [Julius Caesar III/ii]

What should actually be difficult for most Americans to ignore is the quality of Justice Scalia’s life and thought, and its impact on the country. Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker put it succinctly: Scalia “devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately, he mostly failed.” Like Toobin, New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse cites case after case after case where Scalia has taken positions consistent only with his personal bias, sometimes at great cost to the rest of us.

Scalia’s poisonous narrow-mindedness toward what he called “the homosexual agenda” and LGBT people generally may have failed to become law, but coming from a Supreme Court justice has made it seem more legitimate and has reinforced American intolerance, with little direct rebuttal or mitigation from his eight fellow justices, despite their upholding marriage equality.

Scalia’s deeply rooted racism was less overt than his gay bigotry, but it showed in his willingness to override Congress on voting rights, his willingness to speak of the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” when referring to black lives that remain the most popular target of cultural venom, and his willingness attack affirmative action by arguing that some minority students should go to “a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.” Would he say such a thing about dumb white Catholics? Or was a part of him aware that it’s still easier for a stupid white kid to graduate from college than a smart black kid.

These sources of Scalia’s hate speech, the same sources of too many Americans’ hate speech, attack not just our democratic politics, but our human decency and tolerance. Scalia fed the fires of intolerance in practical ways as well, opening the way for the richest bigots to buy the most elections. Most recently he sided with those who would rather do nothing about the global threat of climate change. And in 2000, this hypocrite of an “originalist” joined the Supreme Court majority that chose the next president, just the way the founding fathers never imagined.

Asked about Bush v. Gore years later, Scalia showed no regret for empowering a president who lied us into war, glorified kidnapping and torture, and managed the economy into crisis, among his worst policies. In response, Scalia said only: “Get over it.”

No one killed Antonin Scalia. He was dead on arrival. It remains to be seen how many of the rest of us he will take with him.


William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

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