AAA Mourns the Passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Recalls Historic 1995 Armenia Trip
Updated: Jul 7
Scalia was the First Supreme Court Justice to Visit Armenia
(L-R): Aram Kaloosdian, Justice Antonin Scalia, Carolyn Mugar, and Jirair Haratunian
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) was deeply saddened to learn that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on Sunday, February 14, 2016. He was 79 years old. Considered by many as a ‘Lion of the Court,’ Scalia was appointed to the high bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and received his LLB from Harvard University.
While Scalia is known generally to Americans as a high profile figure, he is also well known in the Armenian American community. In July 1995, Scalia became the first sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice to visit Armenia.
“In our world of law, he was a giant. His heart had no boundaries; his mind had no limits,” former California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian told the Assembly upon learning of Scalia’s passing. “There was nobody like him. He was my judicial brother,” Arabian said.
(L-R): Nancy Najarian, Dan Maljanian, and Justice Antonin Scalia
Scalia traveled to Yerevan to participate in a USAID-funded conference of judges, lawyers, and legal experts, sponsored by the Technical Assistance for the Republic of Armenia (TARA), a non-profit group focused on promoting an independent judiciary in Armenia following that country’s independence from the Soviet Union.
Accompanying Justice Scalia on his trip to Armenia were five other American judges: Armand Arabian and Marvin Baxter of the California Supreme Court, Paul Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Dickran Tevrizian of the U.S. District Court in Southern California, and Eric Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. American attorney’s participating in the Yerevan conference include TARA Board of Directors Chair Nancy Najarian, TARA Executive Director Dan Maljanian, Sam Ericsson, Van Krikorian, Peter Kezirian, Tom Samuelian, Karen Lord, Carmen Bullard, Professor Mark Movsesian of Hofstra University Law School, and Professors Bob Sharlet and Herman Schwartz of the Rule of Law Consortium.
The Armenian Assembly reported in 1995 that, “Scalia emphasized the importance of establishing an independent judiciary in Armenia and the means by which the country has begun to do so.” Armenia held a referendum on the adoption of the country’s first constitution days before the U.S. delegation arrived.
“I made a point of reading it from top to bottom. I thought it was quite good,” Scalia said of Armenia’s constitution. “I don’t think it’s as good as ours. Maybe it’s better than ours, for the Armenians,” he said.
During the conference in Yerevan, Scalia noted the difficulty of moving beyond the rhetoric of change to implementation, and stressed the importance of legal training and education. “I think people are very much aware of…the enormous difficulty for all of the emerging democracies to jump-start a new democracy without a corps of [newly trained] judges,” he remarked.
Scalia also emphasized the value of becoming personally acquainted with members of the judiciary in different countries. He expressed enthusiasm about the meeting with Armenia’s Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Tariel Parseghian, as well as the lower court judges. “I think we can support one another and learn from one another,” Scalia said. “He does believe enormously in the new system, in the rule of law, in human rights,” Scalia said of Parseghian.
According to Scalia, one of the many benefits of the 1995 TARA conference was the increased attention given to the judicial branch of Armenia’s government. “[American judges] can buttress the self-respect of the judiciary in another culture [and] get the members of the government who are not in the judiciary to think more about that branch of government,” he commented.
(L-R): Annie Totah with Justice Antonin Scalia
On October 5, 1995, the Armenian Assembly of America held a reception in Scalia’s honor at the Grand Hotel in Washington, D.C. At the reception, Scalia presented his observations on the legal transformation underway in Armenia to over 60 officials from the White House, various government agencies, think tanks, organizations administering democracy-building and rule-of-law programs in Armenia, and the press, as well as Assembly Life, Full and Associate Trustees. Notable attendees include former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore, Armenian Ambassador to the U.S. Rouben Shugarian, and USAID Administrator Tom Dine.
During the Assembly’s reception, Board of Trustees President Carolyn Mugar presented Justice Antonin Scalia with a wood carving from Armenia symbolizing man’s faith in justice. Mugar also presented him with a framed certificate signifying the 50 trees planted in Armenia in Scalia’s name by the Assembly’s sister organization, the Armenia Tree Project.
(L-R): Aram Kaloosdian, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Carolyn Mugar
Armenian Assembly Board of Trustees Counsel Aram Kaloosdian, who served as master of ceremonies at the 1995 reception in Justice Scalia’s honor, told the Assembly that Scalia “was elated at having gone to Armenia and he was very much impressed with the work being done out there. Many people came to the reception to hear his views, and he was very positive and enthusiastic about Armenia.”
Additional photographs of Justice Antonin Scalia at the Assembly’s reception are available here.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501©(3) tax-exempt membership organization.