Friday, February 19, 2016

Justice Scalia: The Deftness of Law

Recently deceased U.S. Justice Scalia raised the hackles of political liberals unlike almost no other. This has intrigued me and prompted me to seek a little more beyond the unhelpful headlines about who the man was and what he represents. This short profile by David Cole in the New York Review of Books provides a decent, liberal account of the man. But this line caught my eye:

All the political machinations surrounding Scalia’s replacement would have troubled Scalia, who was a firm believer that the Constitution and its interpretation should not be subject to political pressures.
Well, it turns out, if I hear Scalia correctly from an interview with the omnipresent Charlie Rose, this was not Scalia's position. It seems that Scalia, while he did not like the spectacle of public hearings into whether Supreme Court nominees were suitable, nevertheless preferred such hearings in the situation where the Court sees itself as over-interpreting (my word) the Constitution. An excerpt from the interview is here. It's only 3 minutes. It's a fascinating glimpse into the philosophically profound and politically murky waters that are being stirred in the cauldron known as US politics.

For an evenly balanced, somewhat critical and well written account of Scalia the law-maker, see this article here from Thomas Berg, which treats the always intriguing relationship between morality and law. The article ends thus:
Justice Scalia usually agreed that his approach still involved some judgment but answered, persuasively, that it constrained judges more than did the use of open-ended moral principles. Nevertheless, greater recognition of the role of judgment might have made Scalia a little less polemical, and a little more charitable, when he disagreed strongly with his colleagues’ opinions.
In end, however, Justice Scalia was a prophet, like many of the great dissenters in the Court’s history (he will rank with Oliver Wendell Holmes among the greatest). And prophecy involves ringing tones and stark terms; it is hard to combine those with qualifiers that charitably give the other side every benefit of the doubt. Justice Scalia lost many battles on the Court, and some of his positions will become even less popular over time. But many of his words will ring with prophetic power for generations to come.
March 2 Update: This article by New Testament scholar Anthony Giambrone is a really really fine piece that has got me thinking of this book, among other things!

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