BATON ROUGE — For years John Baker, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University, told people that he feared his good friend, the energetic and hard-driven Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, might succumb one day as a result of the justice’s active lifestyle and vigorous commitment to his beliefs about the Constitution.
Scalia’s death this month at a Texas resort ranch did not come as a complete surprise to him.
“He was always going, going, going, and I feared that one day (he) might keel over,” Baker, who is now a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., told the Louisiana Record.
Since the two met in 1987, Scalia and Baker regularly team taught both law students and attorneys in numerous settings in the United States and abroad on the Constitution’s separation-of-powers provisions.
Among the locales were summer sessions in the Greek Isles in the opening years of the 21st century, courses in France and lectures under the auspices of the Federalist Society that took place every couple of years. The sessions in Greece were part of a summer abroad program at Tulane Law School.
Baker said the classes focused specifically on the Constitution’s separation of powers – that is, decentralizing power among an independent judiciary, a bicameral legislature and the executive branch – rather than the more encompassing topic of federalism.
Scalia laced his talks with humor, and Baker said he was often relegated to the role of straight man during the team teaching.
“He would refer to me as among the pointy-headed law professors,” Baker added, explaining that the two of them, along with their wives, remained good friends over the years. In another parallel, each has nine children.
Both shared views that what distinguished the United States from other societies was not the Bill of Rights and those 10 amendments’ provision for individual liberties such as freedom of expression and religion. Rather, having an independent judiciary along with powers divided among different government branches gives such individual rights their true meaning. Scalia saw the Bill of Rights as simply icing on the cake, Baker said.
Scalia also had an affinity for the state of Louisiana. He gave talks to various groups in the state over the years, and Baker noted that Scalia would travel to Lafayette for hunting excursions after Christmas. As a Supreme Court justice, he was also close to federal judges in Louisiana and was assigned to handle procedural matters coming out of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
The law professor said the justice, a Ronald Reagan appointee, had a huge public impact as he went about educating lawyers and the general public in an effort to give everyone an originalist view of the Constitution. Baker said Scalia’s goal was to see to it that the courts followed the Constitution as originally envisioned by the framers rather than “make it up.”
Baker now teaches law students from China during the summer at Georgetown. Some of them, in fact, had gone on to hear Scalia talk about the separation of powers and seemed impressed at what the justice had to say, taking it very seriously. Indeed, Baker received as many condolences about Scalia from people from China as he has from U.S. citizens.
Still, the number of Americans who recognized Scalia’s efforts to retain the Constitution’s original framework shouldn’t be minimized, Baker said, considering the long line of people who were waiting to see Scalia’s coffin in repose Friday at the Supreme Court’s Great Hall.
“He was larger than life even after death,” Baker said.