FLASHBACK: The Liberal Media Hate-Storm After Justice Scalia’s Passing

February 18th, 2024 10:30 AM

Eight years ago this week, as the nation mourned the loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, left-wing pundits unleashed an appalling storm of hateful comments about the longtime conservative jurist, slashing him as “regressive,” “cruel” and “reprehensible.”

Then when GOP Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would not vote on a replacement for Scalia until after the 2016 election, the liberal media hissed that it was, as the New York Times framed it, “another attempt to deny the legitimacy of the country’s first black President.”

Scalia, who won the support of every Senate Democrat when he was unanimously confirmed in 1986, died on February 13, 2016. The nastiness began immediately. “So if the news about Scalia is true, how long do we have to wait until we can openly not be sad about it?” quickly tweeted Rolling Stone’s David Ehrlich.

“Wish I could be a fly on the wall for Scalia’s chat with the Devil,” The New Yorker’s managing editor Silvia Killingsworth hooted on Twitter that same night.

On that night’s CBS Evening News, correspondent Jim Axelrod targeted Scalia’s “rigid conservatism,” and his “caustic attacks on liberal notions.”

The next morning, an editorial in the New York Times snarled: “From abortion rights to marriage equality and desegregation, Justice Scalia opposed much of the social and political progress of the late 20th century and this one.”

The Washington Post’s banner headline focused on the feelings of lefty snowflakes: “Supreme Court Conservative Dismayed Liberals.” (Four years later, after the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a very different Post headline celebrated:  “A Pioneer Devoted to Equality.”)

“Sometimes it seemed he worked overtime to earn your hate,” Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick sneered in a February 14 article. “He wrote cruel, demeaning things about whole groups of Americans.... As reprehensible as so many of his views were, we will be wrestling with him for decades to come.”

On MSNBC, correspondent Irin Carmon told host Ari Melber that Scalia was “somebody whose jurisprudence certainly left out in the cold, as you say, many historically-oppressed people.”

Over at the Washington Monthly, David Atkins derided Scalia: “Particularly toward the end of his career he simply became a reliable tool of retrograde social conservative orthodoxy and corporate power....” The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti hissed that Scalia had “crafted a legacy that was decidedly regressive and anti-woman.”

Those tuning in to ABC’s The View heard co-host Michelle Collins promulgate the ludicrous idea that Scalia might have been murdered: “People love a conspiracy theory....My whole thing was, you know it wasn’t a Republican that killed him because he would have been riddled with bullet holes. You know what I’m saying?”

The bashing continued well past Scalia’s February 20 funeral. “So, look, you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead,” HBO Real Time host Bill Maher began on his February 26 program, “[but] Antonin Scalia was put on Earth to remind poor people that the law is not your friend....This idea that he was a brilliant mind — he was just another old white Republican guy living in the bubble.”

Writing in the February 29 edition of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin was just as dismissive: “[Scalia] devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy....Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor.”

Liberals like Toobin may have salivated at the idea of a new Justice dismembering Scalia’s accomplishments, but GOP leader Mitch McConnell swiftly announced Senate consideration of a new nominee would wait until after the election. Predictably, the media screamed “racism.”

“In a nation built on slavery, white men propose denying the first black president his Constitutional right to name Supreme Court nominee,” the New York Times’s Brent Staples tweeted on February 14.

“By saying he will block a Supreme Court nominee who has not even been named, Mr. McConnell is headed toward partisan warfare,” reporter Jennifer Steinhauer claimed in the February 15 New York Times.

Appearing that day on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, Chris Matthews blasted McConnell’s announcement as “almost indecent....It was like a Dickensian scene in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge, or somebody’s, died, dead, and they come rushing in to take the sheets off the bed before he’s dead.”

“The conservative base has never accepted that a black Democrat could be a legitimately elected President, and after 7 years of having to live with a President the majority of white voters voted against, Republicans are going to use this [Scalia’s replacement] as a chance to throw a nationwide temper tantrum,” Salon.com’s Amanda Marcotte wrote in a February 15 post.

The Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman went even lower: “Truthfully, the Republicans don’t want the President’s Kenyan paws on Scalia’s high seat.”

“After years of watching political opponents question the President’s birthplace and his faith, and hearing a member of Congress shout ‘You lie!’ at him from the House floor, some African Americans saw the move by Senate Republicans as another attempt to deny the legitimacy of the country’s first black President,” the Times’s Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin argued in a February 18 front-page story.

The harshest assault came from TV’s late night comics. TBS’s Samantha Bee seethed at McConnell: “What better way to honor America’s greatest champion of original intent than by wiping your obstructionist ass on the very document he holds so dear....Let’s just have a Supreme Court vacancy for a year because some chinless dildo wants a justice who will use his gavel to plug up your abortion hole.”

As for Scalia himself, he had sensibly suggested in 2012 that a liberal successor would not be preferred. “I would not like to be replaced by someone who immediately sets about undoing everything that I’ve tried to do for 25 years, 26 years.”

But of course it was the liberal media’s utter disdain for Scalia and his judicial record that had them yearning for an Obama-appointed replacement — and explained their venom when they failed to get one.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.