Okay, hear me out.
I was convinced (prior to reading this book) that Scalia is a total jerk. I had a friend suggest to me last Fourth of July that the American thing to do would be to read Scalia Dissents. He said it was all the rage with lawschoolers. I put it on my "must read" list on Good Reads and moved on.
A few weeks ago, the library told me I was next in line, and I prepared myself. It has been, actually, quite amazing. Now, to be honest... Kevin Ring (the editor/commentator) is a Scalia apologist. You can feel it in his intro, it's dripping with Scalia adoration.
But jumping into Ring's framing of each issue (like religious freedom, abortion, homosexuality, and judicial activism) is exquisite and accessible... and puts the cases into context.
Moreover, taken as a body, Ring paints an unadulterated view of Scalia's originalism. (I know, they are not representative of his whole body of decisions, but you do get a great sense of the respect that Scalia has for the Constitution, like it or leave it.)
I have tons of quotes I have underlined and highlighted; dog-eared pages that are ripe with lovely standout explanations of how Scalia sees American democracy.
I particularly was in love with Scalia's dissent in Morrison v Olsen, which touched on the constitutionality of a congressionally created special prosecutor that was outside the reach of the president. Absent of specifics of the case, his view on the separation of powers is clear and concise:
It is unthinkable that the President should have such exclusive power, even when alleged crimes by him or his close associates are at issue? No more so than that Congress should have the exclusive power of legislation, even when what is at issue is its own exemption from the burdens of certain laws... No more than this Court should have the exclusive powers to pronounce the final decision on justiciable cases and controversies, even those pertaining to the constitutionality of a statue reducing the salaries of Justices. A system of separate and coordinate powers necessarily involves an acceptance exclusive power that can theoretically be abused.
Obvioulsy, there are tempting zingers that pepper Scalia's scorn for decisions made by the marjority (See Grutter v Bollinger; Planned Parenthood v Casey.)
He riddles the use of racial preferences, stating that...
[Racial discrimination in undergraduate admissions] is not 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)
Particularly poignant in Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. (A great interview with Lee Bollinger was aired on NPR this morning with projected fall out from yesterday's decision.)
Scalia gets even more contemptuous (and humorous) in his disdain for decisions surrounding abortion, stating in Planned Parenthood that the court had destroyed the concept of precedent and stare decisis in their attempt to proact social change. In doing so, justices become more influential, more political than politicians. And that is unconstitutional. He charges:
It seems to me that stare decisis ought to be applied even to the doctrine of stare decisis, and I confess never to have heard of this new, keep-what-you-want-and-throw away-the-rest version... No government official is "tempted" to place restraints upon his own freedom of action, which is why Lord Acton did not say, "Power tends to purify."
In all, I think I am going to actually try to read what Scalia has to say for myself. He's conservative, and occasionally writes decisions that make my blood boil, but he has a fascinating way of communicating and seeing the world. It is, indeed, worth the time.
In summation, I am working my way through this book. It is delightful. And to balance myself off, I am going to read up on Amazon's suggestion; Former Justice John Paul Steven's new book.
Oh, I can't wait to go to the pool and rock these books.
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan