Justices, Law Enforcement Officials Pay Tribute to Assassinated Italian Judge
A high-level gathering at the Supreme Court paid tribute on Thursday to Giovanni Falcone, an iconic Italian judge who was assassinated in 1992 as he waged legal war against the Mafia.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., along with Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito Jr., Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, Deputy FBI Director John Pistole, and former FBI Director Williams Sessions, spoke at the tribute, which was co-hosted by the Italian Embassy. Judge Arthur Gajarsa of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who was a driving force behind the event, also spoke.
Falcone, instrumental in some of the most important prosecutions against the Mafia in the 1980s and early 1990s, was driving with his wife in Palermo, Italy in 1992 when lookouts spotted his car and triggered a bomb that killed them both along with three bodyguards. He was remembered Thursday for developing the "follow the money" strategy that helped expose Mafia operations.
Roberts opened the tribute, saying "Grazie!" when spectators applauded. "Many in America think the best things in life can be traced back to Italy," he said, citing Scalia and Alito as proof of that proposition. More seriously, Roberts said Falcone had "died in a very real struggle to protect the innocent and stop violence," and deserved to be honored.
Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi called Falcone a "true interpreter" of the meaning of individual freedoms and the rule of law. "Italy has become a different country" in the years since Falcone's death, Terzi said, in part because of his legacy in reducing the influence of the Mafia.
Alito, who was U.S. attorney for New Jersey while Falcone was alive, remembered being briefed with a "glowing account" of Falcone's anti-Mafia tactics. "The international community lost a very great man" when Falcone was killed, Alito said. He accused the media of using the Mafia to "slander Italian-Americans." The justice took a swipe at the entertainment industry for the "perversely romantic" image of the Mafia it has "shamefully promulgated."
Scalia recalled meeting Falcone not long after he became a justice in 1986. "He was obviously a marked man, and he knew it," said Scalia. Falcone's death caused nationwide "revulsion" in Italy that spurred anti-Mafia efforts, Scalia said. He concluded, "Glory and honor to his name."
Gajarsa recalled Falcone telling him that "a country ruled by law will last forever, but a country ruled by man will crumble." Gajarsa announced creation of a new organization in Falcone's honor that will promote exchanges between Italian and American judges. The event at the Court was attended by several Italian-American leaders, including Philip Piccigallo and Joseph DiTrapani of the Order Sons of Italy in America, a national organization for people of Italian heritage.
Napolitano praised Falcone as a symbol that even in the face of the "most entrenched criminality," an individual can make significant inroads. She drew parallels between the Mafia and the Mexican drug cartels. Napolitano, who has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee, sat next to fellow Italian-Americans Scalia and Alito during the event.
Ogden said many colleagues at the Justice Department still have "extraordinarily fond and strong memories" of Falcone. His strategies have become even more useful, Ogden said, in the "unprecedented explosion" in the use by organized crime of technology and globalization in recent years. Ogden also paid tribute to the three Drug Enforcement Agency employees who died Monday in a military helicopter crash in Afghanistan.