Supreme Court Justice opens up to law school on the stability of statutes

Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pondered the changing role of constitutional interpretation in judicial decisions Thursday at the Jack Morton Auditorium. Michelle Rattinger | Senior Photo Editor

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Kelly Quinn.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia highlighted the importance of impartiality and consistency in judicial decision-making during the kickoff to a two-day GW Law School symposium at the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday.

Considered by many to be the intellectual linchpin of the conservative block on the Supreme Court, Scalia touched upon the necessity of both historical scholarship and legal expertise in forming opinions on cases within “a government of laws, not of men.”

“Historians can bring before the court the facts,” but it is the court’s job to analyze those facts, he said. “Finding out the meaning of legal texts is a classic judicial function,” he said.

Putting down the notion that history is irrelevant, the justice argued that, “the use of history is far closer to having the cure than the disease.”

In his introductory remarks, GW Law School professor Bradford Clark noted Scalia’s impact on “the way we all think about interpretation and the law,” calling him “one of the most consequential Supreme Court justices in history.”

A well-known proponent of judicial restraint, the justice discussed the notions of textualism, focusing on the words used in laws, and originalism, emphasizing the legislator’s meaning, in interpreting the Constitution.

“The originalist approach to constitutional interpretation holds that the Constitution is no different than any other legal text,” Scalia said. “The Constitution bears a static meaning which does not change from generation to generation.”

Scalia, often criticized for his sharp tongue and dogmatic nature, had the crowd laughing with his quick-witted responses to questions from moderator and Harvard Law School professor John Manning.

Notre Dame Law School professor William Kelley defended the justice’s poor track record with other members of the court.

“The business of the court is not normally done according to personal relationships. There is no room for deal-making or vote-trading,” Kelley said.

Kelley also hailed Scalia for his consistency and eloquence, saying, “he has fundamentally transformed the terms of legal debate in this country.”

“It is his opinion that law students read closely, and it is his opinion they react to most strongly,” Kelley said.

Students in the audience were excited by the opportunity to ask the oftentimes media shy justice questions, taking full advantage of the justice’s frankness and, as law student Katelyn Ruiz said, the chance to “see inside his head.”

The symposium was coordinated by members of the GW Law Review, a student-run publication that seeks to promote legal scholarship.

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