Who Does Scalia Think He Is?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been in the news a lot lately. But not for the right reasons.

For years, Scalia has enjoyed the reputation of a deep thinker, a principled originalist, someone who believes that the law can be strictly interpreted without reference to a judge’s personal frame of morality. (Though he sparred with the late Ronald Dworkin on this point.)

But what’s he been up lately, you ask?

Well, a couple of weeks ago he claimed that the State of the Union (whose written form, if not the speech, is mandated by the Constitution) is a “childish spectacle,” and that he doesn’t want to go because his presence would “lend dignity to it.”

That’s a pretty bold view of oneself. The State of the Union is a state function, a coming-together of the executive, legislative, and (usually) judicial branches of government. That one member of that governing body could detract from the dignity of a national function merely by not going suggests more than a little narcissism.

But that’s not all: Scalia’s disdain for the collective decisions of the eleted representatives of the American people extends to their governing actions, as well. In oral arguments over the Voting Rights Act, Scalia argued that a 98 to 0 vote for reauthorization of the law isn’t proof of the law’s necessity or the government’s authority in passing it – no, such overwhelming numbers are actually proof of “racial entitlement.”

There, Scalia managed to sound not only like a candidate for dictator, but also like someone posting on Stormfront or some particularly unpleasant subreddit.  Personally, I don’t have a ton of faith in congressional decisions either. But using unanimity as an argument for invalidation of a law seems to be going a little to far, even for me.



  1. I’ve seen him on panels at colleges discussing legal issues and he does always sound reasoned and reasonable, but over the last few years, he’s said some very strange and partisan things. Maybe a lifetime term on the Supreme Court is not a good idea and would say there definitely has to be a degree of narcissism that develops. It’s human nature when only you and eight others hold the only guaranteed employment in the entire nation.

    1. That seems like an entirely reasonable conclusion. I was also thinking about what happens to a person when they get used to being the smartest person in the room over a long period – Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been taking some weird positions in his latest writing, too, and one wonders if that’s what happens in a self-affirmative bubble.

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