Archive for Friday, October 4, 1996


October 4, 1996


A colorful, conservative Supreme Court justice outlined his philosophy and responded to questions at KU's law school.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a devout "textualist" in legal jargon, allowed Kansas University law students Thursday an opportunity to examine the fabric of his judicial philosophy.

He told about 300 students in a Green Hall classroom that he would answer their questions if they were willing to listen to his lecture on constitutional interpretation.

"I have most of the answers," he said.

Those answers are set forth in the U.S. Constitution, which has guided Scalia's opinions since appointment to the Supreme Court by President Reagan in 1986.

He described himself as a textualist, which refers to a person who believes the job of a judge is to apply the actual language of the Constitution rather than search for other meanings.

"The Constitution has a meaning which does not change," he said.

He urged law students to reject popular judicial orthodoxy that suggested judges should view the Constitution as an evolutionary document that reflected intellectual fashion.

It's not the judicial branch's duty to make law; that should be left to legislators, he said. Politicians -- not men and women in black robes -- were paid to check the nation's pulse and vote on standards for abortion, flag burning, right-to-die and other issues not addressed by the Constitution, he said.

"I haven't had a beer with the boys down at the corner for years. It's a legislative function," Scalia said.

He said judges who insisted their goal was to bring enough flexibility into constitutional law to keep the document from snapping were actually introducing rigidity to the system.

"These people don't want flexibility," Scalia said. "They want their way. And they want their way through the courts -- coast to coast."

In response to questions, Scalia displayed wit, energy and fondness for oral argument -- especially with students who disagreed with his views.

"They don't have a philosophy," he said. "They just don't like me."

He said the Supreme Court confirmation process was so infested with politics that it had become difficult to get textualists like himself past the Senate.

"I'll continue to fight the good fight," Scalia said. "I've enjoyed it. I'm not there for the money."

Scalia, who also has worked in private practice, the U.S. Justice Department and the University of Chicago, said the Supreme Court was his best job to date.

"I'm not sure I'm going to do it forever. I like being a judge. There's no heavy lifting," he said.

Asked about the behavior of lawyers who argue cases before the Supreme Court, Scalia said a big issue was lack of clear thinking.

"It's a problem of the attorney not realizing he's making no sense at all. He's full of confidence. Nothing else," he said.

Scalia said too many of the country's best and brightest students were studying law. That's a reflection of a society overburdened by complicated laws.

He was able to spend time at KU because he spoke Wednesday in Kansas City, Mo., to a non-profit Catholic group.

Scalia was the second Supreme Court justice to visit KU this year. Justice Clarence Thomas lectured in April. His speech followed a talk by retired Justice Byron White.

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