"Hey, c'mon, that's standard Catholic doctrine!" he told the surprised interviewer. "I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It's in the Gospels!"
Although he was a man of deep faith, however, Scalia did not invoke his faith to reach "Catholic" decisions at the Court, scholars maintained.
"He understood that he held an office, as a matter of public trust, and that that office had limits," Walsh said. "His job was to apply the federal law of our country as faithfully as he could."
An example of Scalia affirming this was his 2007 keynote address at a Villanova Law School conference, as reported by the journal First Things, where he said that "there is no such thing as a 'Catholic judge'."
"The bottom line is that the Catholic faith seems to me to have little effect on my work as a judge," he said. "Just as there is no 'Catholic' way to cook a hamburger, I am hard pressed to tell you of a single opinion of mine that would have come out differently if I were not Catholic."
In a 2002 essay for First Things on the morality of the death penalty, he prefaced it with this statement:
"Before proceeding to discuss the morality of capital punishment, I want to make clear that my views on the subject have nothing to do with how I vote in capital cases that come before the Supreme Court.
That statement would not be true if I subscribed to the conventional fallacy that the Constitution is a 'living document' – that is, a text that means from age to age whatever the society (or perhaps the Court) thinks it ought to mean."
Scalia's emphasis on interpreting the law as it was originally written and intended drew criticism from some Catholics that he was a "legal positivist" who ignored or downplayed the moral content of the law to focus on its original meaning. Walsh argued that is a misinterpretation.
"I think what he [Scalia] drew from Natural Law was an understanding that there are moral benefits to positive law, to adhering to things that were decided in the past, to use them to resolve disputes now," he explained. "That there is a serious moral underpinning to insisting on sticking with the law, even when it doesn't lead to outcomes that you prefer."
The interpretation of human law for the citizenry – as seen in Scalia's work – was emphasized by St. Thomas Aquinas, Walsh added. Law, in the classical sense, "is an ordinance of reason for the common good made by one with authority and promulgated," Walsh said.
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"And Justice Scalia's jurisprudence really brings out the significance of promulgation in human law, that is, put out there in a form that could be understood, put out there in a form that you can hold the government, as well as the governed, to, set forth in authoritative text there to be applied by judges and other government officials."
And Scalia, in interpreting the law as it was written, was uncomfortable with some actions he ruled were constitutional, Walsh noted. In Texas v. Johnson, he sided with the majority opinion that the burning of an American flag was protected under the First Amendment as a lawful expression of free speech.
"It would have pained him to see a flag being burned," Walsh said, but he ruled that way "because our Constitution protects people from not being punished for expressing views that people disagree with. And that was a difficult vote for him in one sense, but not at all once he knew what the law required."
Other critics might charge that Scalia's "conservative" Catholic faith improperly influenced his decisions on abortion, marriage, and religious freedom, but that too is misguided, Garnett said.
"No one is perfectly consistent, of course, but it seems clear that Justice Scalia did not see his votes and opinions in cases as opportunities to impose Catholicism," he said.
For instance, Scalia's dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey – where in 1992 the Court upheld the Roe ruling that decided a woman's legal right to have an abortion – was based on his opinion that a legal right to abortion was not in the Constitution, not that it was immoral.