It is a widely held truth that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is one of the smartest justices ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court. For the life of me, I cannot understand how he got that reputation.
When I look at Justice Scalia, I see a man who appears to be intellectually incurious, congenitally close-minded and far more driven by his religious beliefs and conservative precepts than faithful adherence to the tenets of the Constitution he is supposed to be interpreting.
Outspoken, brusque, and often condescending in dealing with those he deems to be inferior (which seems to be just about everybody) Justice Scalia is a strong proponent of originalism in constitutional interpretation, and is passionately opposed to the idea of a "Living Constitution." In other words, he believes that he and the other justices should only apply the founding fathers' 18th Century vision when deciding on issues that come before them and not bend the document out of shape by interpreting it in light of the changes that have occurred over the past almost 2 1/2 centuries.
A pretty tall order by anyone's standards, as there isn't much that's happened over the last 150 years that the founding fathers would have had any way of imagining when they crafted their noble document. Take for example the issue of immigration.
Since every one of the founding fathers, if not immigrants themselves, were descendents by one generation of immigrants to this wide-open, unsettled land, it probably never occurred to them that nearly 250 years later, we'd be talking about a "Papers Please" approach to immigration that calls for stopping any resident that our law enforcement officers think look un-American and demanding they produce valid identification or face deportation. There is nothing in the orginal document that speaks to this issue, however there is quite a bit in the first 10 amendments specifically designed to protect residents from this kind of arbitrary abuse of power.
And yet here we have that strict consitutionalist and intellectual giant, Antonin Scalia, able to discern that the founding fathers would have wanted the states to individually create and enforce their own immigration policies if they judged that the federal government wasn't doing a satisfactory job. And then, not content to just find a power for states that appears nowhere in the Constitution, he also is able to prognosticate that if states like Arizona knew the federal government was going to make such a hash of controlling immigration, they might never have joined the union in the first place. How's that for "originalism of interpretation"?
Was it his strict constitutionalism or his towering intellect that allowed him to carve out this power for the states on immigration at the same time he decided that states have no power at all when it comes to regulating corporate money spent on elections within their borders. Oh wait, I forgot. Braniac Scalia was leading the pack of conservative justices who decreed that corporations are people with all the first amendment rights that pertain; a position I'm sure the founding fathers, if they had been able to foresee the Koch Brothers or Exxon Mobile, would have roundly applauded.
I've seen articles about Justice Scalia where the authors describe him as complex and defying simple characterizations. He wishes! He may be bombastic, colorful, and cranky but there is nothing complex or hard to define about a man whose every vote you can predict with the precise accuracy of a Swiss timepiece. The only complicated thoughts that I see in Justice Scalia's decisions can be found in the way he manages to twist logic and the law to fit his preconceived opinions and ideas.