Justices Breyer, Scalia Wrangle over Interpreting the Constitution

October 27, 2009
In a debate over interpreting the Constitution between Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer, Scalia robustly defended his belief in "originailsm," and Breyer countered that Scalia's approach would likely lead to results inapplicable in today's society.

During their recent debate at the University of Arizona, Scalia (right) said his "originalist" philosophy for interpreting the Constitution leads him to conclude that reproductive rights, for instance, are unconstitutional. "Right to abortion?" Scalia said. "Come on. Nobody thought it violated anything in the Constitution for 200 years. It was criminal."

Justice Breyer countered Scalia's defense of originalism, saying that the Constitution was meant to be relevant over time, not just to the 18th century. Breyer maintained that if the high court read the Constitution as literally as Scalia says he does, it would produce an unlivable society. "It won't be a Constitution anyone will be able to live under," he said.

Balkinization has commentary on and video of the debate here