Scalia stands by his ‘originalist’ views on Constitution


Supreme Court Justice Scalia speaks to the Washington Metro Area Corporate Counsel Association during its annual luncheon. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)
January 22, 2012

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said judges should not shape abortion laws in the United States, and that attempts to advance abortion rights through the courts instead of voter-approved measures are sneaky.

The associate justice, speaking for 30 minutes at the annual meeting of the Washington Metro Area Corporate Counsel Association on Thursday, drew many laughs as he reiterated his views that the Constitution should be interpreted strictly. He repeatedly called himself an “originalist” and at times blasted the interpretation taken by other justices who regard the Constitution as a “living” document that should evolve along with the society it governs.

Scalia, the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, delivered the keynote address at the meeting, attended by more than 100 in-house lawyers at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner.

“The Constitution is not a living organism, it’s a legal text for Pete’s sake,” he said, adding that criticism that originalism doesn’t allow the court to deal with modern times is “absurd.”

“Originalism has something of a bad name, certainly in academia,” he said, joking that it’s seen as “almost like a weird affliction, like you’ve acquired a taste for human flesh.”

Scalia said those who believe proponents of “living Constitutionalism” — the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted differently as times change — are interested in flexibility are “crazy.”

Supporters of that approach are actually promoting more rigidity in the law because they want their personal views on issues like abortion, homosexuality and the death penalty “to be the law coast to coast, now and forever,” Scalia argued.

“I have three colleagues who believe the death penalty is unconstitutional,” he said, emphasizing that citizens have never voted to outlaw capital punishment. “What wasn’t a prohibition voted on by the American people has somehow become a prohibition.”

Abortion rights are not protected by the Constitution, and should be determined by voters, not the judiciary, he said.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the right to an abortion,” said Scalia, who has previously spoken out against Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that established a woman’s right to an abortion. “But don’t tell me the American people demand that you have it and wrote it in the Constitution, because that’s not true.

“Most rights are adopted in a democracy by persuading [fellow voters], not by sneaking it compulsory through the back door, making it mandatory and permanent ... that people never voted for,” he said.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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