Justice Antonin Scalia

  • February 27, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing bloc appears ready to seriously weaken the integral enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    During oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder, all of the court’s conservative justices as SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein reported appeared “committed to invalidating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and requiring Congress to revisit the formula for requiring preclearance of voting changes.” (Section 5 requires certain states and towns, mostly in the South, to obtain “preclearance” for any changes to their voting laws and procedures to ensure they do not harm minority voters.)

    The New York Times’ Adam Liptak in a piece on today’s oral argument noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy asked attorneys arguing in favor of Section 5, how much longer states like Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.” Liptak also noted that Justice Antonin Scalia took a shot at Section 5 saying it produces a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” The Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly expounded on Scalia's commentary, noting that the justice flippantly said Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 because, who could vote against a bill with  such a "wonderful" name.

    Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr also noted Kennedy’s skepticism of Section 5, saying the justice chided Congress for relying on a supposedly outdated formula for deciding what states should be covered.

    Chief Justice John Roberts asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether the Obama administration believes people in the South “are more racist than citizens in the North.” The Associated Press reported that Verrilli said no.

    As Liptak noted in a piece earlier this morning, it has long been clear that the Court’s conservative wing views with great skepticism the formula Congress has used in determining what states should be covered by Section 5. He noted the 2009 opinion in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, in which Roberts said Congress should revisit the formula. Congress, however, took no action. Liptak continued that the conservative justices “could stop short of striking down Section 5 itself.” Instead, Liptak said the high court could call for an end to the use of the formula, meaning Congress would need to revise it for “preclearance” to continue to be useful. (During the 2012 elections cycle, Section 5 was used by the Department of Justice to halt potentially discriminatory voting procedures from taking effect in several of the covered jurisdictions, such as Texas, Florida and South Carolina.)

    Goldstein also wrote that it appears “unlikely that the Court will write an opinion forbidding a preclearance regime. But it may be difficult politically for Congress to enact a new measure.”

    Supporters of Section 5 argued in a slew of briefs before the high court that Congress via the 14th and 15th Amendments has great discretion in crafting proper legislation to ensure that states do not violate the rights of minorities, including particularly the right to ensure states do not discriminate in voting. It appeared during oral argument that the court’s five right-wing justices believed Congress has not done its job properly.

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson said, “With so many recent efforts to suppress the vote, it should be clear that the law remains relevant and necessary. This Court should refrain from deciding unilaterally that Congress has completed its job of ensuring the promise of the 14th and 15th Amendments.”

  • November 19, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It’s not where he said it; it’s what Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had to say about the ruling in Citizens United and the role of the federal government that warrants any kind of notice.

    Alito has long been defensive of the high court’s handiwork in a decision that gave more power to corporate interests to spend their expenditures on politicking. That 2010 high court opinion in Citizens United v. FEC overturned longstanding court precedent allowing for some regulation of campaign financing by corporations. During the 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama blasted the Court for trampling that precedent and added that it would become a boon for special interests, including foreign ones, and Alito was caught on camera uttering, “Not true.”

    Recently the severely conservative judge (he was far right as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit) again sounded a defensive note on Citizens United before the Federalist Society’s 2012 National Lawyers Convention. Alito, as reported by the Associated Press, said all kinds of newspapers and television news and opinion broadcasts, many owned by vast corporate interests, sound off on and provide endorsements of candidates.

    “The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely media corporations,” Alito said during a keynote address at the group’s 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner on Nov. 15. “Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”

    Beyond defending the opinion, and shooting a few asides at critics of the opinion, Alito sounded what is a frequent Tea Party or rightwing talking point about ever-expanding powers of the federal government, saying that the views advanced by the administration in several cases before the high court revealed a vision of a society dominated by a towering federal government.

  • November 16, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Justice Antonin Scalia, in his concurring/dissenting opinion in last term’s decision on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, offered some unusual statements about Arizona’s need for such a ridiculously rigid immigration law, and even took a swipe at President Obama’s executive policy stopping deportations of some undocumented immigrants.   

    According to Scalia, Arizona was suffering from a deluge of undocumented immigrants. “Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy.” But he did not stop there and advanced another rightwing talking point for justifying wobbly and harmful state action on immigration. It’s all the federal government’s fault, he said. “Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem, and indeed have recently shown they are unwilling to do so.”

    It’s this mentality – undocumented persons are flooding states from coast to coast, using up scarce state resources and because the federal government won’t act, state lawmakers will – that undergirds laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 that also promote racial profiling and undermine all citizens’ rights.

    In a just released ACS Issue Brief, Pratheepan Gulasekaram and S. Karthick Ramakrishan not only take Justice Scalia to task for failing to “provide sources for these seemingly crucial truths,” but reveal a study of 50 states and more than 2,5000 localities that show “political affiliation was the most significant factor in explaining” the enactment of laws like Arizona’s SB 1070.

  • 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.