"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, March 11, 2011

Birthdays Today

It's Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's birthday.   He's 74.   Scalia has been the bulwark of the conservative wing of the Court since his appointment in 1986, which means he's now been on the Court for 25 years, an extremely long tenure.   Scalia's basic judicial philosophy, "originalism," strives to read the actual words of the Constitution as they would have been meant by the Framers, as opposed to how proponents of a "Living Constitution" would read them now, imbuing them with the progressive wishes of "modern" society.   He is also easily the best writer on the Court, although recently-appointed Justices Alito and Roberts are pretty good too.   I always read his dissents first in cases where he writes one, because I know it will cut through the B.S. to the important point.   For instance, Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey,
The States may, if they wish, permit abortion on demand, but the Constitution does not require them to do so. The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.
And, in the 2000 case of Stenberg v. Carhart, in which the Court invalidated a Nebraska statute outlawing partial-birth abortion, Scalia wrote "I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court's jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott. The method of killing a human child ... proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion."

He can also be pretty funny.   Here he is in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, involving racial preferences in the University of Michigan's law school, mocking the Court's conclusion that the school was entitled to continue using race as a factor in admissions so as to increase "cross-racial understanding":
This is not, of course, an "educational benefit" on which students will be graded on their Law School transcript (Works and Plays Well with Others: B+) or tested by the bar examiners (Q: Describe in 500 words or less your cross-racial understanding). For it is a lesson of life rather than law—essentially the same lesson taught to (or rather learned by, for it cannot be "taught" in the usual sense) people three feet shorter and twenty years younger than the full-grown adults at the University of Michigan Law School, in institutions ranging from Boy Scout troops to public-school kindergartens.
A great man.  Here's wishing him continued health, as we need him on the Court, and it would be a tragedy if such a great Justice were to be replaced by a liberal picked by Obama.  

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