Where I Agree with Scalia
Earlier this week, New York magazine published a much talked-about Q&A with Justice Antonin Scalia. I was going to write a combative post about some of his combative comments but realized it would take too long. Besides, I kept running across things he said that I agreed with.
So here are the things he said that I agree with.
On “stupid but constitutional,” which is like “shitty but not illegal”:
A lot of stuff that’s stupid is not unconstitutional. I gave a talk once where I said they ought to pass out to all federal judges a stamp, and the stamp says—Whack! [Pounds his fist.]—STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL. Whack! [Pounds again.] STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL! Whack! STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL … [Laughs.] And then somebody sent me one.
On the idiocy of the State of the Union:
I know you haven’t been to a State of the Union address for a while, and I wanted to know why.
When was the last time you went to one?
Oh, my goodness, I expect fifteen years. But I’m not the only one who didn’t go. John Paul Stevens never went, Bill Rehnquist never went during his later years. Because it is a childish spectacle. And we are trucked in just to give some dignity to the occasion. I mean, there are all these punch lines, and one side jumps up—Hooray! And they all cheer, and then another punch line, and the others stand up, Hooray! It is juvenile! And we have to sit there like bumps on a log. We can clap if somebody says, “The United States is the greatest country in the world.” Yay! But anything else, we have to look to the chief justice. Gee, is the chief gonna clap? It didn’t used to be that bad.
He also knows who to blame for that:
The Gipper may have been the one who started it. He’s the one who brought in people he would recognize in the audience, and things of that sort—made it a television spectacle. And once it becomes a television spectacle, it’s nothing serious.
I loved Seinfeld. In fact, I got some CDs [sic] of Seinfeld. Seinfeld was hilarious. Oh, boy. The Nazi soup kitchen? [sic] No soup for you!
On low expectations:
If you have low expectations, you’re not disappointed. When it’s somebody who you think is basically on your side on these ideological controversies, and then that person goes over to the dark side, it does make you feel bad.
On writing and aging:
But I often worry when I go back and read one of my early opinions like Morrison v. Olson. I say, “God, that’s a good opinion. I’m not sure I could write as good an opinion today.” You always wonder whether you’re losing your grip and whether your current opinions are not as good as your old ones.
Much of the rest I disagree with. We have different world views, different concepts of, in particular, absolutism and relativism. I wish the Q, Jennifer Senior, had asked him, for example, what he thinks is absolute and what he thinks is relative. Maybe that's too broad a question. Maybe it's too boring. He's obviously aware the world changes. But he also says this: “Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change.” Esqueeze me?
Antonin and I.