Justice Antonin Scalia

  • July 18, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Jeffrey M. Shaman, a professor at DePaul University College of Law and author of the just-released ACS Issue Brief, “Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan: Recusing Freedom of Speech.”


    Arrogant, defiant, and dogmatic, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a true believer in the theory of originalism — the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its original meaning when first adopted in 1787. Originalism is based on the notion that the Constitution has a fixed meaning that does not change with the passage of time. Given the bully pulpit of his high office, Justice Scalia is the nation’s most prominent advocate of this extreme and deeply conservative ideology.

    The problem is that originalism is a fraud that misrepresents the nature of history by presuming that it has an objective meaning that can be discovered through study of the past. However, the belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively is an illusion. The meaning of the Constitution does not reside in the past, and any attempt to ascertain the original meaning of the Constitution necessarily entails reconstructing the past in one’s mind. Originalism, then, perpetrates a pretense of objectivity that functions as a facade for policy-making.

    The illusory propensity of originalism is strikingly apparent in District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled by a slim 5-4 majority that the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

  • June 27, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Pratheepan Gulasekaram & Karthick Ramakrishnan. Prof. Gulasekaram teaches Constitutional and Immigration Law at Santa Clara University, and Prof. Ramakrishnan teaches in the Political Science department at University of California, Riverside.  The empirical work referenced in this post is part of a co-authored book project exploring the political genesis and legal implications of state and local immigration laws.


    Defiant in his Arizona v. U.S. dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia posits a surprising theory of immigration law, arguing that even in modern constitutional interpretation, an individual state can exclude persons from entering its borders and can have its own immigration policy. His novel theory appears to rest on assumptions about the demographic “facts” of unauthorized immigration and the public policy problems ostensibly faced by Arizona.  He confidently maintains that the state “bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem,” and follows that suggestion with several other claims regarding the “siege” that citizens may feel when illegal immigrants invade property, use social services, and endanger citizen lives.

    Quite rightly, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit took Scalia to task for these unsupported statements in a recent article for Slate.

    But Scalia is not alone in making these unproven assumptions about the relationship between immigration-related demographic change, the public policy concerns created by that change, and the necessity of state and local response. Indeed, both former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano (now, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security) and her successor Jan Brewer cited the unique issues faced by Arizona as justifications for the state’s mandatory E-Verify law and SB 1070.  Even Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the first sentence of his majority opinion in Arizona, presumes that the state enacted SB 1070 to address the “pressing issues” related to a large population of undocumented immigrants. 

  • June 26, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For what seems like decades a conventional wisdom, built largely by a handful of Supreme Court correspondents, has held that Justice Antonin Scalia is the high court’s most brilliant, disciplined, albeit ideological, member. He is also, according to this conventional wisdom, deliciously witty.  

    But thankfully, the Web has altered the narrative by giving forums to an array of writers who have been quick to poke holes in an increasingly tiresome and shoddy line of reporting. (It should be noted, however, that longtime Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse is not among the gaggle that built the fawning picture of a straight-shooting justice with a jolly wit. Indeed Greenhouse has taken Scalia’s sloppy work to task on numerous occasions.)

    Moreover the aging Scalia is simply not helping to advance the conventional wisdom. Though in fairness, he hardly seems concerned with what reporters, bloggers think or write about him. His constituency is made up of right-wing politicos and activists. He’s the Koch brothers’ justice.

    With each passing high court term, Scalia seems to becoming wackier, more out-of-touch, increasingly shrill. And he’s being called out for his nuttiness with growing frequency.

    In a piece for Salon, Paul Campos, for instance, is not mincing words about the tottering justice. Scalia, Campos writes, “has in his old age become an increasingly intolerant and intolerable blowhard: a pompous celebrant of his own virtue and rectitude, a purveyor of intemperate jeremiads against the degeneracy of the age, and now an author of hysterical diatribes against foreign invaders, who threaten all that is holy.”

    Campos was referring to Scalia’s concurring, dissenting opinion issued in Arizona v. U.S. where a majority of the justices invalidated three provisions, and weakened a fourth, of Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law. In his opinion Scalia not only railed against alleged dangers undocumented persons pose to Arizona, but also ruminated about state sovereignty and took a shot at President Obama’s actions on immigration policy.

  • May 30, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The arguments lodged against the health care law’s minimum coverage provision have been described by constitutional law experts as radically libertarian or terribly misguided. But during oral argument before the Supreme Court, the right-wing bloc, led by Justice Antonin Scalia appeared eager to endorse the challengers’ arguments against an integral provision of the Affordable Care Act. We’ll likely know sometime in June whether the high court’s conservative wing was indeed persuaded by the challengers’ arguments.

    In a guest post for Balkinization, Rob Weiner, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, provides greater detail to the attacks on the health care law’s minimum coverage provision writing they “reflect an effort to codify nostalgia as legal doctrine.” 

    The “most obvious throwback” is the liberty argument, Weiner says. Opponents of the health care law attack the minimum coverage provision as a serious affront to liberty. The minimum coverage provision will require some Americans starting in 2014 to purchase a minimum amount of health care insurance.

    The affront to liberty, Weiner writes “is the right not to obtain insurance – by any other name, freedom to contract.”

    In the Supreme Court’s 1905 Lochner v New York opinion, the majority held that the freedom to contract was “part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.” Weiner notes that Lochner thus barred New York from regulating conditions of some workers. And in its 1923 Adkins v. Children’s Hospital opinion, the Court relied on this so-called freedom to contract to protect employers from adhering to the minimum wage law.

  • May 15, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    With an increasing number of states dispensing with or reconsidering capital punishment, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review (HRLR) has released an exhaustive issue, which should push more state lawmakers to join the discussion. The HRLR issue provides compelling and highly troubling documentation of the likely wrongful 1989 Texas execution of Carlos DeLuna.

    As Andrew Cohen writes for the Atlantic the HRLR’s issue, “an astonishing blend of narrative journalism, legal research, and gumshoe detective work,” should be read, especially by Justice Antonin Scalia, who in a 2006 concurrence staunchly defended the integrity of capital punishment cases, saying they are “given especially close scrutiny at every level ….”

    Since being reinstituted in the United States, Texas has executed more inmates than all other states, except for California and Florida, where the death row populations are higher. In the last five years, however, five states have chosen to abolish capital punishment, with Connecticut the most recent. Californians in November will consider a ballot measure to end the death penalty.

    HRLR’s issue called Los Tocayos Carlos, provides a stunning account of a criminal justice system gone terribly awry, with prosecutors, witnesses, judges all faltering in ways that tragically bungled a capital punishment case. While these officials and actors ignored evidence to the contrary, the likely perpetrator, Carlos Hernandez, continued a life of violent crime after DeLuna was convicted and sitting on death row.

    In a press release about the report, Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman, and lead author of the issue, said, “Carlos DeLuna’s execution passed with little notice. No one cared enough about the defendant or the victim [Wanda Lopez stabbed to death working at a convenience mart in Corpus Christi] to make sure they caught the right guy. Everything that could go wrong in a death penalty case did go wrong for DeLuna. Sadly, DeLuna’s story is not unique. The very same factors that sent DeLuna to his death – faulty eyewitness testimony, shoddy legal representation, prosecutorial misfeasance – continue to put innocent people at risk of execution today.”