Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies At Age 79

By McCarton Ackerman 02/15/16

Scalia's passing has left many Washington officials scrambling to process what the impact of his demise means for politics and law in an election year. 

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies At Age 79

Supreme Court Justice and noted conservative Antonin Scalia died in his sleep last Saturday while on a hunting trip in Texas.  He was 79 years old.

Scalia’s death was announced that day in a statement by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and later confirmed by both the Supreme Court and U.S. Marshals Service. He had served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court ever since being voted in unanimously in 1986. President Obama praised Scalia in a statement as “one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court” and said he “influenced a generation of judges, lawyers and students.”

The majority of Scalia’s drug views were in line with his conservative leanings. He joined the dissent that declared already-established sentences regarding crack cocaine possession should stand, despite new guidelines that reduced the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. This was related to the June 2011 case involving William Freeman, who entered a nine-year plea agreement for one count of crack possession, among other charges, shortly before the U.S. Sentencing Commission amended the sentencing guidelines.

In April 2000, he declared that physical inspections for drugs should be just as legal as visual ones. This was in relation to a case involving a Texas border patrol agent who physically searched a man’s bag and found a brick of methamphetamine. The man argued the incident violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. And in November 2000, he also supported the dissent that roadblocks with drug-sniffing dogs did not violate the Fourth Amendment rule declaring that searches without suspicion of wrongdoing to be unreasonable.

However, there have been times where Scalia fell on the side of supporting drug dealers. In April 2014, he unsuccessfully defended California native Pedro Navarette, who was pulled over in 2008 for suspicion of drunk driving after a woman called 911 and said he had run her off the road. Police determined he wasn’t drunk, but still searched his car and ultimately found 30 pounds of marijuana. Scalia argued the search was a violation of Navarette’s Fourth Amendment rights, writing that he didn’t “see how reasonable suspicion of a discrete instance of irregular or hazardous driving generates a reasonable suspicion of ongoing intoxicated driving."

Scalia was also opposed to randomly drug testing employees. He wrote in 1989 that "the impairment of individual liberties cannot be the means of making a point . . . symbolism, even symbolism for so worthy a cause as the abolition of unlawful drugs, cannot validate an otherwise unreasonable search."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.