Armenian Assembly of America Mourns the Passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Recalls Historic Trip to Armenia in 1995

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Scalia was the First Supreme Court Justice to
Visit Armenia

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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Caption 1 (L-R): Aram Kaloosdian, Justice Antonin Scalia, Carolyn Mugar, and Jirair
Haratunian

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Caption 2 (L-R): Nancy Najarian, Dan Maljanian, and Justice Antonin Scalia

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Caption 3 (L-R): Annie Totah with Justice Antonin Scalia

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Caption 4 (L-R): Aram Kaloosdian, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Carolyn Mugar

About Armenian Assembly of America

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 non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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