Antonin Scalia Didn’t Let His Own Opinion Interfere With His Sense of Justice

Even on hot-button issues, he always sided with the Constitution. On today’s show, journalist and editor Ed Whalen shared some stories about the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and talked about the new book, “Scalia Speaks,” which compiles some of the justice’s greatest speeches.

“It’s a real treasure trove of Justice Scalia’s thoughts,” Whalen said. “Not just on law, but on faith, on learning, on life.”

One example of Scalia’s emphasis of rule of law and the Constitution was his opinion on flag-burning, which he said was protected speech under the First Amendment – even though he personally hated that decision.

This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

GLENN: I can't think of a time in American history, in the -- in my lifetime, that it's been harder to find a man who will stand up for what is right even against all odds and stand up because it is right, even if it hurts him. I've never experienced a time in my life where it is more important to zoom out and look at the big principles as opposed to zooming in and seeing the daily squabbles.

And that's what we want to do here in this segment.

STU: Yeah, there's a new book called Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well-Lived. Antonin Scalia is certainly a guy that represents what you're talking about.

And the book is by -- one of the coeditors is Ed Whelan. You've probably read his stuff online with National Review. And the book just came out. And Ed joins us now.

GLENN: Hey, Ed, this is a collection of speeches. Some of them were unknown that he gave?

ED: That's right, Glenn. Actually, almost all of them had never been published anywhere before. It's a real treasure trove of Justice Scalia's thoughts, not just on law, but on faith, on learning, on life. I think everyone will find it just a delight.

GLENN: So, Ed, could you find any place -- as you were looking at his speeches and you were looking at his life, could you find any place to where you think he was deeply conflicted in the sense that he didn't want to make a decision or didn't want to do something, but because he believed in the Constitution, he did make that tough choice?

ED: Well, he made it quite clear that one example of that is on the matter of flag-burning. That, you know, he made the decisive vote back in the late '80s, holding that laws that specifically target flag-burning violate the First Amendment. He makes it quite clear, that if he had his way, you know, hippie flag burners would be tossed in jail. So that's just one example.

Lots of areas of criminal procedure are another. And then even on the hot-button issues. That are so contested. It's important to recognize that his position was that these were matters left to the democratic processes to decide one way or another. He did not, unlike folks on the left, misread the Constitution, to impose his supposed views on say abortion or marriage.

GLENN: One of the things that is going on right now is this idea that our rights come from God and not the government. And it seems bizarre at how many people believe that somehow or another, that rights don't come from God. That they do come from a man-made source.

Did you find anything where he was talking about that?

ED: Oh, absolutely. It recurs throughout his speeches. His recognition that our founding principles recognize that our rights come from God. And the Constitution sets up a structure that's designed to protect and fulfill those rights. Absolutely. That's at the very heart of his understanding of what America is.

And I would just add that on this Columbus Day, you know, what better opportunity to highlight the first Italian American justice, a justice who celebrated that one could both be Italian American and be 100 percent American. It's a beautiful speech that he gave just a month after he got on the court, where he talks about what makes an American. Says, no matter your blood, your place of birth, what makes it is embracing the principles of this country. And I'm afraid we see too many people abandoning those principles, in your example of believing that rights are whatever government confers are just one example.

STU: Yeah, Ed, it's amazing on Columbus Day today, where they have security around the Columbus statue, has now become some big controversy. Where Scalia in 2005 was able to become the grand marshal of the Columbus Day parade. Which was a really big deal to him.

ED: It was a huge deal. He just delighted in it. He had marched in the parade when he was a junior ROTC in Xavier High School in Manhattan. And as he said decades later, this is the top of the hill, to be grand marshal in your hometown. For an Italian kid from Queens, there could be no greater thrill than to march one last time as grand marshal of the Columbus Day Parade.

So he took great pride in being Italian American. But, again, he emphasized he wasn't a partial American. He and other Italian Americans could be fully American, precisely because they embraced the American creed.

GLENN: So as you look at today's landscape, do you see many people like him?

ED: He is in many respects, one of a kind. At the same time, he has a tremendous legacy in the law clerks, law students, lawyers he has influenced. So I think in the legal realm. We are very much living in a legal world that is defined around Justice Scalia. And many folks define themselves against him. But many others define themselves with him. And I think you see in Justice Gorsuch's selection and confirmation, just one of the many great legacies of Justice Scalia.

I think we see from the book that is Justice Scalia the man in full? The man -- a deep man -- a man of deep faith. A man who recognized that the ultimate test of life is to live out one's faith properly. It's a beautiful speech called The Christian Is Cretin (phonetic), meant ironically, that spells that out.

But, again, one of the key points he makes throughout the book in so many speeches is that his obligation as a faithful Catholic is to not misconstrue the Constitution and other laws, to indulge his views. His very obligation as a Catholic means that he -- that he shall not misread the Constitution. As he put it, the only commandment of his faith that really bore on his judging was, thou shall not lie. Thou shall not lie about the meaning of the Constitution or of other laws.

STU: Ed -- we're talking to Ed Whelan, he's the author of Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and a Life Well-Lived.

The book itself is really, as you kind of pointed out, is his whole world. Right? It's him as an individual person. His faith, his life, and the legal stuff.

He entered into my thinking over the last week, however, as it relates to the tragedy in Las Vegas. And, you know, obviously the response to that has been largely, which ways will we further infringe our right to bear arms?

And it feels like -- I was interested to see if you had perspective on what Scalia believed, not only on something like this, where you have bump stocks, for example, to potentially be banned, but also the automatic weapons ban itself. What was his line when it came to where that right to bear arms stopped?

ED: Well, we have his opinion in DC versus Heller. And, you know, I think it's far-fetched for somebody on the other side to try to claim some other connection between this and the horrible incident last week.

I think it's more relevant to recognize that Justice Scalia drawing on the Framers saw that virtue in the citizenry was essential to the survival of this country.

And when you have -- you know, just a deep collapse in -- in morals and respect for life, you know, that's going to lead to some very bad things.

So I don't know what his -- his particular, you know, views might have been on gun policy or these bump stocks, whatever these are called. But, you know, the ruling in DC versus Heller was regarding a much narrower -- and I think, again, this fellow who committed a massacre certainly violated gun law after gun law. It would be a non sequitur to discuss that the absence of gun laws was a problem.

GLENN: Ed, how is Gorsuch going to -- how is he fitting these shoes?

ED: Well, Justice Gorsuch made it quite clear that he's dedicated to originalism. He's the first justice who is educated at law school, at a time when Scalia had influenced what law is, what constitutional interpretation is. I think that's a significant fact. I am very hopeful that Justice Scalia -- excuse me -- Justice Gorsuch will be a supremely fit successor to Justice Scalia. He's starting out very well so far, and his record on the Tenth Circuit I think speaks very highly of his abilities.

GLENN: Ed, thanks a lot, I appreciate it.

(music)

STU: Ed Whelan. The book is Scalia Speaks: Reflections of Law, Faith, and a Life Well-Lived. That's available everywhere now. And he's also with the National Review and the Ethics on Public Policy Center.

GLENN: Garbage in, garbage out. Make sure everything that you're reading, everything you're doing, you're putting in really good basic information and fuel into your mind. And this is a good place to start.

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