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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2007

Scalia defends strict meaning of Constitution

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia regales the audience at the University of Toledo's Doermann Theater. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia regales the audience at the University of Toledo's Doermann Theater.
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There are perks to being a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

One of the less publicized, along with the lifetime appointment and the key role in American democracy, is the ability to show up at a law school with a speech on, say, foreign law in the federal courts, and ditch it in favor of another speech you suspect you gave, at the same university, only a few years back.

Justice Antonin Scalia disclosed as much yesterday at the University of Toledo, where he regaled a packed Doermann Theater with a lively and witty defense of his signature issue: the "originalist" theory of interpreting the Constitution.

Returning to Toledo after a 2003 speech - both sponsored by the University's College of Law - Justice Scalia extolled the idea that judges must interpret the Constitution as it was originally intended by its framers.

For years, he said, "the Constitution was regarded as a rock to which society was anchored. And that rock didn't move."

He mocked the opposing course the court has taken in viewing the Constitution as a "living" document that evolves with society's "maturation." "It means whatever you like, it's in there," he said.

That view, Justice Scalia said, has led judges to add new rights - such as abortion rights - and restrict others, such as the right for criminal defendants to confront accusers at trial.

He blamed the "living Constitution" disciples for politicizing Supreme Court appointments, which he said have grown increasingly nasty, a trend he predicted will continue.

He drew laughs for suggesting that federal judges be issued a rubber stamp they could apply to ill-conceived laws, marked "stupid but constitutional."

Justice Scalia suggested the House of Representatives, where members must face voters every two years, is better suited than the judiciary to respond to public opinion changes.

"I don't know what the evolving standards of the American people are I live in isolation, inside the Beltway in Washington," he said. "I work in a marble palace. I don't know what's going on."

The justice, whom the law school paid a $7,500 honorarium, met law students and faculty for a private question-and-answer session before the speech and attended a reception with local judges afterward.

During the speech and subsequent audience question session, he veered briefly into current events, criticizing judicial salaries for not increasing fast enough - which he said is pushing good people from the bench - and saying he did not believe the federal government has a role in regulating marriage.

U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary introduced Justice Scalia with a story about the justice leading a Kentucky orchestra in "Stars and Stripes Forever."

"I suggested," the judge said, "that he conducted the band as intended by the song's composer."

Contact Jim Tankersley at:


or 419-724-6134.

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