I heard Supreme Court Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia talk many years ago at a function in Rhode Island held by the Justinian Law Society. If I recall correctly, the topic was the “living Constitution.”
Scalia was both brilliant and entertaining. He is a wonderful speaker, and I would jump at the chance to listen to him directly again.
So too did over 30 members of Congress the other day, and it appears that Scalia has not lost any of his touch, impressing both Republicans and Democrats (emphasis mine):
Scalia spoke to The Hill briefly following an hour-long closed-door meeting with 30 to 40 House lawmakers on the Constitution’s separation of powers. The event was organized by Tea Party Caucus founder Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)
Scalia said he told the members at the meeting to “follow the Constitution” but wouldn’t go into depth on his advice.
At least four Democrats attended the unusual briefing with Scalia. Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Mel Watt (N.C.) participated in the event alongside many GOP freshmen lawmakers and a handful of veteran GOP members.
McIntyre called Scalia “engaging and entertaining,” a common reaction from lawmakers who attended.
Lawmakers said a number of hot-button issues came up, as members asked Scalia’s views on the constitutionality of earmarks, the line-item veto and the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Scalia weighed in on issues that the Court has already ruled on, like the line-item veto and the EPA, but he would not discuss issues that could come before the justices in the future.
The challenge to last year’s healthcare law, which is expected to reach the Supreme Court, did not come up during the discussion, Bachmann said.
Schakowsky said the talk was “fascinating” and “perfectly suited for a bipartisan audience.”
“He started out by saying, ‘You’re not going to like some of the things I have to say about the ability of the Congress to limit the executive, et cetera,’” Schakowsky said.
She said Scalia also urged the members to “get a hard copy of the Federalist Papers and read them and underline them and dog-ear them.”
Lawmakers said Scalia didn’t say anything controversial or surprising, though he repeated his well-known position that the Constitution is not “a living document.”
Remember, Scalia has come under attack by Democratic interest groups for giving this talk, as part of a larger tactical assault on the conservative members of the Court.
Contrast the actual talk with how the Board of Editors of The New York Times summed up the advance criticism of Scalia’s appearance:
The Tea Party epitomizes the kind of organization no justice should speak to — left, right or center — in the kind of seminar that has been described in the press. It has a well-known and extreme point of view about the Constitution and about cases and issues that will be decided by the Supreme Court.
By meeting behind closed doors, as is planned, and by presiding over a seminar, implying give and take, the justice would give the impression that he was joining the throng — confirming his new moniker as the “Justice from the Tea Party.” The ideological nature of the group and the seminar would eclipse the justice’s independence and leave him looking rash and biased….
By presiding over this seminar, Justice Scalia would provide strong reasons to doubt his impartiality when he ruled later on any topic discussed there. He can best convey his commitment to the importance of his independence, and the court’s, by deciding it would be best not to attend.
Scalia is an intellectual giant compared the the Board of Editors of The NY Times, and stands so far above the Times Editors that they barely can see his shoelaces.
Now that the reviews are in from Democrats who attended the Scalia lecture, I’m sure we can expect a retraction in the next NY Times editorial opinion.
Update: I recommend this 60 Minutes interview of Scalia: