During a book signing at the American Enterprise Institute Tuesday, Justice Antonin Scalia said the biggest public misconception about the Supreme Court comes from nightly newscasts.
“What we do is dull,” Scalia said, explaining that the “30-second takeouts” the public gets about the Court when watching the nightly news isn’t an accurate representation of what the justices do. For instance, he explained, they’re not spending most of their time debating the legitimacy of abortion or same-sex marriage. “We’re looking at dull stuff, like the bank code,” he said.
In a room packed full of lawyers, aspiring law students and news media, Scalia talked about his book Reading the Law and his “textualist” approach to interpreting the Constitution. Textualism is the idea that law should be applied using the original meaning of the words.
Not to be missed: A Q&A with the audience and a poignant interruption from Siri…
- “Textualism is not perfect,” Scalia said. “The issue is not whether textualism is perfect, it’s whether it’s better than anything else.” Scalia illustrated his point using the “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you,” tale. People in the audience laughed as if they’d never heard it. In fact, Scalia got a lot of laughs out of the crowd.
- Scalia criticized media coverage of the Court: “Do not believe anything you read about the internal workings of the Supreme Court,” he said, “because it is a lie. The press knows we don’t respond [to misinformation].” He said, “They like to portray the court as nine scorpions in a bottle. We’re all good friends.”
- The Justice said his favorite founding father is “the indispensable man” George Washington. “It wouldn’t have happened without him,” Scalia said. “It just goes to show you that smarts ain’t everything. … He wasn’t a genius. He wasn’t even that good a general, to tell you the truth. He had tenacity.”
- Scalia’s advice for law students was to avoid taking classes titled “‘anything’ and the law,” such as “Literature and the Law,” “Women and the Law.” He said to spend more time in “bread and butter” courses, like bankruptcy law and intellectual property law.
Quotable: “I don’t know what you mean.”– Siri, the voice-activated iPhone assistant. It went off on someone’s phone near the press as Scalia was talking about the legality of capital punishment.