Antonin Scalia & The Perversion Of American Values

ScaliaI’m glad that conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia appeared on Fox News Sunday yesterday in order to promote his new book. In the course of his interview with Chris Wallace, Scalia gave great insight into the bizarre mindset that inhabits mainstream conservative legal thought.

Scalia explained to Wallace that he is a member of the cult of originalism.

WALLACE: You — in your book, you explain your approach to judging, which is called textualism or originalism. What exactly is that?

SCALIA: Originalism is sort of subspecies of textualism. Textualism means you are governed by the text.

That’s the only thing that is relevant to your decision, not whether the outcome is desirable, not whether legislative history says this or that. But the text of the statute.

Originalism says that when you consult the text, you give it the meaning it had when it was adopted, not some later modern meaning. So —

WALLACE: So, if it was the Constitution written in the 18th century, you try to find what those words meant in the 18th century.

This is madness. We do not live in the 18th century. At the time of the Constitution’s writing the meaning of “liberty” was liberty for wealthy, white, male landowners. If you continue to interpret the Constitution as if the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries don’t exist, you do a disservice to America.

That’s crazy.

As great as the Constitution is, it was not handed down by the Lord to Moses. It is not the word of God, but rather the work of man. It has and will be amended and reinterpreted because America — more than any other nation — was not frozen in amber when the Constitution was ratified.

Some of the greatest advances in America have come when we have modified the Constitution. We’ve advanced the cause of human rights by changing this document, not by pretending as if we still live in the 18th century.

Scalia’s view of the Constitution is not a fringe belief within conservatism. in fact, Scalia is often cited as the model for conservative jurisprudence. That is not an America we should hope for.


  • SaveFarris

    If you continue to interpret the Constitution as if the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries don’t exist, you do a disservice to America.

    Those people that amended the Constitution, which you claim are some of the greatest advances in America? They too held an 18th Century view of the Constitution because they changed it (via Amendment) in the exact way perscribed in said document.

    Your argument is that there should be a way to change the plain-word meaning of the Constitution WITHOUT going through the Amendment process, most likely because you know that you wouldn’t be able to rally enough support to push those changes through.

    • Christopher Foxx

      You can always count on Farris to bring the stupid.

      Today’s flavor: arguing against something nobody said.

  • thad

    It’s also bullshit.

    “Originalism” is the name he gives as an excuse to defend voting however the hell he wants.

    His view on the Second Amendment is WILDLY out-of-step with its original intent; he’s been instrumental in a modern interpretation that basically declares the “well-regulated militia” clause meaningless.

    Now, while I disagree with him on that particular political point, obviously I don’t have an inherent problem with reinterpreting the Constitution in a modern context. Every Justice does it.

    What sticks in my craw is that Scalia claims he doesn’t. He claims to have a direct line to James Madison and insists that everyone who disagrees with him is Wrong.