Emmett Till

Scalia's role in the Emmett Till case

Scalia's role in the Emmett Till case

Beyond the appreciations and analyses following the recent death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, there is a richly ironic and little-known story. It is the story of how a legal rationale crafted by the ultra-conservative Scalia in a mid-career Justice Department memorandum ultimately was used by a Kansas City activist to urge a federal investigation of the 1955 Mississippi murder of Chicago teen Emmett Till.

While the revelation is historically significant, it also sheds new light on the inner workings of a brilliant legal mind — one that apparently could be pressed into service of a political agenda.

It all began in 1976, when Scalia, an...