The “Evangelist for originalism”

Justice Antonin Scalia’s “60 Minutes” interview to promote his upcoming book “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges” turned into a full-fledged profile of the justice, a piece Lesley Stahl called Scalia’s “first major television interview.”

The piece touched on some things we’ve heard Scalia talk about before – things that have been mentioned on this blog – such as his aversion to the “living Constitution” school of thought and his thoughts on torture. But Scalia – who admitted to being a “shin kicker” at times – revealed some new and interesting things as well, including his thoughts about those who call him things like a “fascist” or “evil.”

“These are people who don’t understand what my interpretive philosophy is,” Scalia said.

As far as those who call him “counterrevolutionary,” Scalia said: “Sounds exciting!”

When asked what his judicial philosophy is, Scalia – who has been called an “Evangelist for originalism” – explained: “I’m a law and order guy. I confess I’m a social conservative. But it does not affect my views on cases. The abortion thing, for example. If indeed I were trying to impose my own views, I would not only be opposed to Roe v. Wade. I would be in favor of the opposite view, which the anti-abortion people would like adopted, which is to interpret the Constitution to mean that a state must prohibit abortion.”

“And you’re against that?” Stahl asked.

“Of course! There is nothing there on that subject” in the Constitution, Scalia explained.

“They didn’t write about that,” Stahl continued.

“They did not write about that,” Scalia said.

Here are some more memorable parts of the profile:

Scalia on his friendship with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “I attack ideas, I don’t attack people. And some very good people have some every bad ideas. And if you can’t separate the two, you gotta get another day job. You don’t want to be a judge.”

On being tough on the bench during oral arguments: “Look, if you just let counsel stand there and talk, he’s just going to regurgitate his brief. I’ve read his brief. I’ve underlined significant passages. I’ve written nonsense in the margins. I want him to tell me why this isn’t nonsense.”

On being an obedient student in Queens, New York who got all A’s and was rarely absent: “I was a greasy grind. I worked really hard. My father, my mother put me to that. And I enjoyed that – I don’t like doing anything badly.”

On giving thought to becoming a priest: “I decided He was not calling me.”

On the influence his Catholic faith has on his job: “It has nothing to do with how I decide cases. My job is to interpret the Constitution accurately. And indeed there are anti-abortion people who think that the Constitution requires a state to prohibit abortion. They say that the Equal Protection Clause requires that you treat a helpless human being that’s still in the womb the way you treat other human beings. I think that’s wrong. I think when the Constitution says that persons are entitled to equal protection under the laws, I think that clearly means walking around persons. We don’t count pregnant women twice.”

On the pride Italian Americans felt when he was confirmed to the Court: “I think the reason is they have this Mafioso thing hung around their neck. You know, you can have an Italian governor but he can still be a crook. But an Italian Supreme Court justice – that meant a lot to them. It was a sign of integrity, honestly, intellectual accomplishment.”

On having a large family with his wife, Maureen: “Well, we didn’t set out to have nine children. Were just old fashioned Catholics, you know, playing what used to be known as ‘Vatican roulette.'”

On his new book, in response to Stahl’s observation that some of his tips “make it seem like lawyers were imbeciles.”

“You would be surprised,” Scalia said with a laugh.


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