Let us turn away, for a moment, from our national insistence to pursue the economics of masochism and instead focus our attentions on a delightful speech I was fortunate enough to attend earlier this week at the Union League Club of Chicago. It was a speech sponsored by the Minions of Darkness (they–we–are actually a lovely bunch of people but they–we–have a reputation to protect, after all) and it featured Justice Antonin Scalia giving a speech on originalism, the adoption of international law in American court decisions and the role of the judge as a moral arbiter. Justice Scalia is in favor of the first and deeply opposed to the second and third. He pointed out the obvious fact that making moral judgments is more the province of the legislator than it is the province of the judge, decried judicial tyranny and showed–unlike his intellectual opponents–that he has a great sense of humility when it comes to his jurisprudential duties. It is the advocates of “a living Constitution” who arrogate to themselves the right, the power, the moral necessity of making up the law to suit a preconception of what is right and just by the lights of the “living Constitution” adherent who presides over a certain case. Judges like Justice Scalia, however, have the self-discipline, devotion to duty, maturity and humility to realize that theirs is not the duty to impose a personalized version of what is moral and just. Rather, theirs is the duty to interpret the Constitution and the laws in question.
The actual speech was quite short. Most of the time was given to answering questions of wide and varying types. I’ll refrain from listing all of the questions here, but many of them had to do with the Justice’s intellectual influences, the legal concepts that excited him (Justice Scalia is most interested in the structure that the Constitution provides and the cases that deal with Constitutional structure. He pointed out that there were and are many constitutions around the world that are more generous–at least on paper–in their granting of rights and freedoms, but since the structure of those constitutions had nowhere near the integrity of that which is found in ours, the rights that were afforded were nothing more than “a parchment guarantee. The old Soviet constitution was a prime example of a document loaded with nothing more than parchment guarantees), Bush v. Gore (short Scalian response: States cannot violate federal law, being a federalist (or a Federalist) means understanding that in conflicts between the federal government and the states, sometimes the feds have it right and if you want to ask the Justice a snarky question about how his jurisprudence in Bush v. Gore did not conform to the precendents of “states’ rights,” you had better not spell “precedents” as P-R-E-C-E-D-E-N-C-E on the index card with the question written on it lest he calls you out in public for the error) and hunting (quoting another, Scalia remarked that “man does not hunt to kill. He kills to hunt”).
At the end of the event, the Justice signed copies of his latest book. Last year, at about this time, I got Justice Thomas to sign his book for me. Now, I have Scalia’s signature on a copy. I need to get similar invaluable scribblings from Justice Alito and from the Chief. At that point, the circle will be complete and I shall have collected the Four Autographs of Power.
And then, all shall love me and despair.