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Scalia defends his originalist view

By Alexandra Chachkevitch, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday touted his approach to interpreting the federal Constitution that focuses on the original intent of the Founding Fathers.

Scalia, a former University of Chicago law professor, called the “originalism” method “the lesser evil.”

“I don’t have to prove (it’s) perfect. The question is whether it’s better than everything else,” said Scalia, who addressed about 400 people at the University of Chicago Law School.

Originalism was behind his reasoning in a 2008 Supreme Court case that upheld the individual’s right to possess a firearm, he said. Scalia wrote the majority opinion for the case and argued that the Constitution’s specific language referred to possessing a firearm as a pre-existing right.

The court’s longest-serving justice, Scalia said he focuses on historical details and the original meaning of the Constitution to make his decisions, which may not always coincide with his own opinions.

“The Constitution is a static being,” said Scalia, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

Opponents of originalism, who include fellow Justice Stephen Breyer, say that the Constitution was meant to be more flexible and adaptive to the changing times. Some phrases in the Constitution, such as “cruel and unusual” criminal punishment, are too broad to be interpreted as a specific permanent rule that does not allow for interpretation, critics of originalism say.

The Ninth Amendment, which protects the rights that the Founding Fathers did not list, is also cited as an argument against the originalism approach.

“Maybe there is a right to abortion,” Scalia said, answering a question from one of the students. “(The founders) didn’t specify, but they didn’t leave it up to the courts to do it either.”

At the end of his speech, Scalia, who taught at University of Chicago Law School from 1977 to 1982, advised future law students to pursue a job that would give them time to focus on their family and community — what he calls “a human existence.”

University of Chicago second-year law student Sarah Staudt, 24, said although she doesn’t share Scalia’s views, it was interesting to hear his perspective on the way the law should be interpreted.

“It was great to have him talk about the core of what he believes in,” she said.

The last time Scalia visited Chicago was in October, when he spoke during a conference on property rights at Chicago-Kent College of Law.


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