Not Even Cold Yet: An Ethical Response to Mourning Justice Scalia

What thick hypocrisy for candidates on both sides to claim our country was founded on values and morals yet be devoid of those values when it comes to political opportunity.
02/16/2016 08:47 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2017

The news of Justice Scalia's death hit the airwaves around sunset Saturday night. Before his family could process his unexpected passing, his still warm body was turned into a political football.

A Republican debate -- scheduled months before Justice Scalia's death -- began with a moment of silence to his memory. But when the candidates took their place behind the podium it was as if they heard a bell ring and the gloves came off. Reverence was replaced with rhetoric; moments of silence with political opportunity.

As a United States citizen, I was appalled. What has our society devolved toward?

To be fair, I would be labeled by most as a Democrat, but never by me. I try not to use labels. I find they only divide and rarely unify.

One reason some would brand me with that tag is because I regularly find myself disagreeing with many of the opinions and dissents of Justice Scalia. Still, he was a brilliant jurist. In addition, he was well known for having a sharp, quick and sophisticated sense of humor along with an unbridled love for his family and this country. While Justice Scalia disagreed with many, he was never rude, dismissive or obnoxious. In fact, one of the greatest tributes to surface after his death was from his fellow jurist and opera buddy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She and Scalia found themselves on the same sides of Supreme Court opinions about as often as a solar eclipse occurs. Even so, they had a deep seeded respect for each other's thought processes and a shared love of the law. Where has that level of commonality gone?

I grew up in the '80s. As a prepubescent kid with an elementary understanding of politics, I could vividly remember the impact of Tip O'Neill, then Democratic Speaker of the House, and Ronald Reagan, then Republican President, working together on all issues and even breaking bread in public often, in what was obviously a public display of camaraderie. That simple gesture let the world know that while politically O'Neill and Reagan might be separated, that is where the division begins and ends. It modeled to the world that our differences need not be personal. It demonstrated that core values and mutual respect are more important than voting records.

Bible thumping candidates for president should be familiar with the Book of Ecclesiastes. In Chapter 3 of that Good Book, it teaches that there is a time for season. The notion is so timeless, The Byrds put the words to melody in a song that came to characterize the landscape of the 1960's.

"There is a time for dancing and a time for standing still; a time for crying and a time for laughter. There is a time for being born and a time for dying."

This time in our nation should be a moment of mourning. Flags should be lowered to half-mast. A brilliant jurist, a devout Christian, a loving husband, an adored father of 9 children and 28 grandchildren, a civil servant and respected Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States for 30 years has died. Let us rent our clothes and mourn his loss properly. Allow time for his family and colleagues to grieve. Let us inter him with the respect and dignity of his faith. Allow us to celebrate his achievements and begin the process of cementing his legacy. After those things occur, we can transition to seeking a suitable replacement and deliberating the qualifications for such person.

What thick hypocrisy for candidates on both sides to claim our country was founded on values and morals yet be devoid of those values when it comes to political opportunity. Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions each have mile-markers of mourning that bring people on a journey. Time is the shared ingredient for all faiths while on that course.

Justice Scalia's body is not yet cold. Nevertheless, politicians and pundits alike are plotting the next steps and political ramifications. I find that behavior abhorrent and akin to family members standing around a loved one in the hospital bed as the doctor pronounces the time of death, and instantly they stoop into a fight over inheritances. It is tactless, insensitive and uncouth. We should be ashamed.

If we 'want to make America great again' then we better start matching our conduct with our slogans. Otherwise, the ones ranting about our demise are ironically the very ones accelerating it.

May Justice Scalia's memory be a blessing. May his family find comfort in his life and his achievements and the support of a grateful nation. May he forever rest in peace.