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Monday, April 12, 2010

Originalism's Old Bulldog: Notes from Scalia's visit to FSU

I earlier mentioned how Justice Scalia was in Tallahassee (for turkey hunting season) the other day. This was just a day before we had an even more prominent guest at the enrichment series for FSU's faculty -- thanks again for coming here, Tracey :-)

As it happens, I did take some notes during Scalia's presentation, which focused on his "shtick" re: originalism. Ever witty and trenchant, Justice Scalia made a number of good points for his team, and he displayed a masterful command of his material and audience. (Kudos go to AS for taking about 15 unscreened questions from the audience and kudos to the FSU students who asked sharp and prepared questions.) Sorry, Larry, but he said nothing about semantic originalism and the interpretation/construction distinction.

I thought I'd share a few of the remarks that I found especially interesting. 

For one thing, I was surprised by Adam Liptak's coverage of Stevens' retirement the next day after Scalia's presentation, because the punchline of the NYT coverage was that Stevens was the last person appointed/confirmed to the SCT on the basis of competence (or independence) as opposed to ideology. Scalia the day before made the point to the crowd that he thought he *was* the last such person, having been confirmed 98-0 by the Senate (with two R's (including Barry Goldwater) not participating in the vote). He offered the view that he didn't think he would be able to get the votes today to be confirmed.

Re: Federalism, I thought Rick Hills would be keen to hear that Scalia's prognosis is that federalism is dead and that Congress can do anything it wants. This ostensibly makes Scalia sad.

Re: Plessy and Brown, he said he thought that Plessy was wrongly decided on originalist grounds, and that Brown would also have been a decision he would have been comfortable voting for on originalist grounds. It's been a while since I read his book on "a matter of interpretation," but I thought it remarkable that he qualified his answer re: Brown with reference to a concern about stare decisis. So, would his faint-hearted originalism lead him to vote in dissent in Brown based on stare decisis? He didn't make that perfectly clear in his remarks, but I thought it a permissible inference that he was saying something like: but for stare decisis, he would have voted in the majority for Brown. Perhaps someone has heard him give a clearer answer elsewhere?

Re: docket selection, he noted that the Court is not in the business of error correction but only uniformity guidance. He said this has been true for at least a century, with a few exceptions: death penalty cases and the Haitian boat people case, because in that situation, they weren't likely to start swimming to New Jersey. I suspect Jack Chin might have something to say about that claim about error correction.

Finally, re: Bock Laundry and textualism, Scalia admitted that that case is often thrown in his face by people thinking he's inconsistent with his textualism, and he even suggested that sometimes that's one of the cases he "wonders" about, i.e., regrets,  but in the end, he said, "I am unrepentant."

Posted by Administrators on April 12, 2010 at 09:01 AM in Blogging, Constitutional thoughts, Dan Markel, Funky FSU | Permalink


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Federalism is alive and well. Judicially enforced limits on Congress are dead -- always have been, really, except for a relatively brief period between 1895 and 1937 -- but they are no more necessary to keep federalism alive than the little decorative castle at the bottom of your fish tank is necessary to keep your goldfish alive. That judicially enforced constitutional stuff is, like the little castle, just decoration posing a fortress.

Now those preemption decisions -- THEY really matter for federalism. And Scalia's generally on the wrong side of them.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Apr 12, 2010 10:01:08 PM

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