When Justice Antonin Scalia died on Saturday, the Supreme Court lost not only one it’s most astute and brilliant legal mind, but one of the wittiest and most profound judges in American history.
Here are six quotes about law and the judiciary to remind you of the rhetorical brilliance of Scalia:
On Being a Good Judge: “If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.” (Speech at Chapman Law School, 2005)
On Economic Freedom: “[T]hat seemed to me a peculiar way to put it — contrasting economic affairs with human affairs as though economics is a science developed for the benefit of dogs or trees; something that has nothing to do with human beings, with their welfare aspirations, or freedoms. That, of course, is a pernicious notion, though it represents a turn of mind that characterizes much American political thought. It leads to the conclusion that economic rights and liberties are qualitatively distinct from, and fundamentally inferior to, other noble human values called civil rights, about which we should be more generous….On closer analysis, however, it seems to me that the difference between economic freedoms and what are generally called civil rights turns out to be a difference of degree rather than of kind.” (“On the Merits of the Frying Pan,” 1985))
On the “Self-Righteous” Supreme Court: “It is one of the unhappy incidents of the federal system that a self-righteous Supreme Court, acting on its members’ personal view of what would make a ‘more perfect Union’ (a criterion only slightly more restrictive than a ‘more perfect world’) can impose its own favored social and economic dispositions nationwide.” (Dissent, United States v. Virginia, 1996.)
On the “Flexibility” of the Constitution: “That’s the argument of flexibility and it goes something like this: The Constitution is over 200 years old and societies change. It has to change with society, like a living organism, or it will become brittle and break. But you would have to be an idiot to believe that. The Constitution is not a living organism, it is a legal document. It says something and doesn’t say other things.” (Federalist Society lecture, 2006)
On Anti-Trust Law: “In law school, I never understood [antitrust law]. I later found out, in reading the writings of those who now do understand it, that I should not have understood it because it did not make any sense then.” (Supreme Court confirmation hearing, 1986)
On the Law and Golf: “I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a fundamental aspect of golf.” (PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 2001)
Liberty—the right to exercise free choice, free from coercive state regulation—is a necessary precondition for virtue. And virtue is ultimately necessary for the survival of liberty. Anyone interested in building a good society should desire to live in a community that cherishes both values.