American Original The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Joan Biskupic

Sarah Crichton Books



Trade Paperback

448 Pages



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In American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the veteran Washington journalist Joan Biskupic presents for the first time a detailed portrait of Antonin Scalia and provides a comprehensive narrative that will engage the Justice's adherents and critics alike. Drawing on her long tenure covering the Court and on unprecedented access to the justice, Biskupic delves into the circumstances of his rise and the formation of his rigorous approach on the bench. Beginning with the influence of Scalia's childhood in a first-generation Italian American home, American Original illuminates his formative years, his role in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, and his trajectory through the Reagan Revolution. Biskupic's careful reporting culminates with the tumult of the contemporary Supreme Court—where it was and where it's going, with Scalia helping to lead the change.


Praise for American Original

"It's hard to write a fair-minded biography of such a polarizing figure, but that's what Joan Biskupic has done . . . In her impressively balanced and well reported book, Biskupic, who previously wrote a biography of Sandra Day O'Connor, gives Scalia his due . . . By letting Scalia describe himself in his own words, Biskupic offers a profile of a man who, at the age of 73, sometimes appears smug and self-satisfied—adjectives he has used to describe critics of using torture in the war on terror—but not especially self-aware."—Jeffrey Rosen, The New York Times Book Review

"Scalia is, as Joan Biskupic illustrates in this capable, intriguing biography, gregarious and kind, delighted by intellectual combat, energized by his work and beloved by his family and acolytes. He thus qualifies as a genuinely complex character and important biographical subject . . . American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is full of strong reporting. It is scrupulously even-handed, which may irritate partisans on both sides of the Scalia divide—there are few fence-straddlers when it comes to him . . . Biskupic's larger accomplishment is to present the recent evolution of the Supreme Court through the prism of its most colorful member. In that vein, it's worth noting this: Viewed through Scalia, Chief Justice William Rehnquist is described as a moderate. A justice who was the most conservative member of the Burger Court now comes to us as a centrist. Such is the state of today's court."—Jim Newton, Los Angeles Times

"Until now Scalia has not been the subject of a full-scale biography that is intellectually rigorous, yet accessible to the general reader. Joan Biskupic, the legal affairs correspondent for USA Today, has filled the gap nicely. American Original: the Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand this jurist . . . Biskupic, while admiring Scalia's intellect and his philosophical consistency, does an effective job of pointing out when he sheds his deference to the will of the people because he wants to attain a certain result, such as last year's decision invalidating the District of Columbia's restrictive gun law . . . Readers wanting to learn about him will find American Original an approachable précis of his life and work."—Claude R. Marx, The Boston Globe

"Antonin Scalia is, without doubt, the most entertaining justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, whether he is speaking in public in his typically operatic way or writing Supreme Court opinions . . . For those who want to know more about the justice, Biskupic's biography lives up to her trademark thoroughness. She is a wonderful reporter . . . If Biskupic is writing it, it has been checked and rechecked a dozen times over. No lie!"—NPR (online)

"Biskupic has written a biography filled with fire, a book almost certain to anger Scalia's fans on many pages because she offers candid assessments of his flaws, as well as his strengths. Scalia's detractors will find lots of material with which to demonize him even further . . . The book is not so much an exposé written by Biskupic as one written by Scalia himself; she is often just the transmitter. Biskupic presents information allowing Scalia to hang himself."—Steve Weinberg, The Dallas Morning News

"The masterful new biography of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by Joan Biskupic, who has covered the court for two decades for The Washington Post and USA Today, is a riveting portrait of one of the most brilliant, outspoken and unabashedly controversial justices in U.S. history. Biskupic tells the story of a bigger-than-life jurist who is leaving a decidedly conservative imprint on the court. Her book is most noteworthy, however, because she captures the real Scalia, warts and all. The result is an unvarnished portrait of the 73-year-old jurist who remains one of the intellectual leaders of the court, yet at times manages to alienate his own colleagues and friends with his 'natural combativeness' . . . One of the most compelling aspects of Biskupic's book is her dead-on portrait of Scalia's tenure on the court, showing what has made this original jurist tick . . . Biskupic's thoroughly researched biography is destined to be the definitive modern account of a jurist who represents the face of conservative justice in America."—Ken Gormley, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Biskupic is an old-fashioned reporter's reporter—hard-digging, tough minded, but evenhanded. She is also a thoughtful and shrewd judge of people. She has penetrated the Supreme Court and given us a fascinating portrait of the Court's most colorful and human justice."—Evan Thomas, Editor at Large, Newsweek

"A gifted storyteller . . . Biskupic is tough but fair . . . At age 73, Scalia remains full of piss and vinegar. If you want to know where he's likely to take his colleagues—and when they'll refuse to go along with him—pick up American Original. Don't wait for a court order."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Tulsa World

"[American Original] will stand up over time."—Emily Bazelon, Slate

'The book's real charm . . . lies in [Biskupic's] treatment of the man . . . Legal scholars have written more about Scalia than any other living justice. Now, in terms of accessibility for the general reader, Biskupic gives the rest of [the] U.S. an inside look at what the fuss is all about . . . Every bit as provocative and entertaining as the man himself."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

On a raised dais at Washington's luxurious May.ower Hotel, the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia is in high performance mode. His comic timing is precise. Laughter and applause ripple on cue from the .ve hundred lawyers packed into...

Read the full excerpt



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    In this online only extra, Washington Week moderator Gwen Ifill and panel discuss President Obama's choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter, Democrats and Republicans preparation for a Supreme Court confirmation battle and how North Korea's nuclear tests and threats have put the international community on alert.

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    Sharyl Attkisson spoke with USA Today's Joan Biskupic about her new biography on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, American Original.



  • Joan Biskupic

  • Joan Biskupic has covered the Supreme Court since 1989. Previously the Supreme Court reporter for The Washington Post, she is the legal affairs correspondent for USA Today, a frequent panelist on PBS's Washington Week, and the author of Sandra Day O'Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and daughter.

  • Joan Biskupic © Matt Mendelsohn
    Joan Biskupic