Posts tagged with: supreme court

June 17, 1996

Rev. Robert A. Sirico & Justice Scalia – June 17, 1996

Over the weekend, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a giant of conservative jurisprudence, stalwart champion of originalist interpretation, and as such a true friend of the Constitution.

He was also a friend of the Acton Institute, and we are proud to share the address he delivered on June 17, 1997 at the Acton Institute’s Seventh Anniversary Dinner in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He titled his remarks “On Interpreting the Constitution,” and in them he explained his originalist approach to Constitutional law, and the severe drawbacks that he saw with any alternative method of interpretation. He described himself thusly:

I am one of a small but hardy breed of interpretists left in the world who are called “textualists,” or “originalists”… People ask me, “when did you become a textualist? What caused you to become a textualist?” You know, sort of like “when did you begin eating human beings?” As though it’s some weird thing, you know? I mean, I—when did you begin to become not a textualist? You know, you have a text, you should read the text! …I’m not kidding, I’m always baffled at the amazement of these people – “well, what a novel idea! You’re a textualist!”

I treat the Constitution the way laws, statutes have always been treated – we try to figure out what it meant when it was adopted.

Scalia’s pointed and witty observations reveal a man with a brilliant legal mind coupled with a wonderful sense of humor, and the arguments that he laid out in 1997 are just as relevant today, if not more so. During his address, he expressed a sense of pessimism about the state of the American legal culture and jurisprudence; but if he was a pessimist, he was surely a very jovial pessimist. His wisdom, his wit, and his steady presence on the Supreme Court will be deeply missed. We have remastered the audio of his 1997 remarks, and present them via the audio player below.

Antonin Scalia

Antonin Scalia

One of the many great things about living in Europe is getting the chance to meet famous Americans visiting the Old Continent. They tend to be more relaxed and accessible than they ever would be in the United States, which means you may actually manage to have a pleasant conversation with them without others trying to jostle their way between you.

It’s an even bigger thrill when you talk with someone you truly admire, which was certainly the case when I met Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the annual Istituto Bruno Leoni lecture in Turin in 2013. My friends at IBL kindly invited me to the reception and dinner following the lecture, and there I was as the only other American chatting with Justice and Mrs. Scalia.

We talked about his old friend and poker buddy Walter Berns (whose health was ailing, he told me with real concern in his face and voice), the work of the Acton Institute in Rome, and “so-called” social justice, as he put it. I tried to get his views on St. Thomas Aquinas and natural law, but he somewhat facetiously said those were “above his pay grade.” (more…)

child traffickingAt first blush, the issues of same-sex marriage and surrogacy don’t seem to have too great a connection. However, in Ireland, a public debate illustrates how closely these issues are related, and it isn’t good.

In May, same-sex marriage became legal in Ireland by public vote. In the days before the vote, major news sources noted that “fears” of surrogacy would sink the vote for same-sex marriage, even though surrogacy is not legal in Ireland. The question raised is: Do people have a right to procreate or, more importantly, have children? Christopher White explains:

The confusion can be traced back to a 1991 case, Murray v. Ireland, in which the high court effectively held that there is a constitutional right to procreate. While many on both sides of the referendum argued that this decision was referring to natural procreation, the decision has already been used to promote donor conception. It’s understandable, then, that many were fearful that a “yes” vote would open the floodgates to a practice that many Irish voters do not support. Mothers and Fathers Matter—the leading civic group opposing the same-sex marriage referendum—launched a campaign that papered the country with ads and posters of a young, concerned toddler with the following slogan: “Surrogacy?: She Needs Her Mother For Life, Not Just For Nine Months. Vote No.”


scaliaOver the past hundred years few judges have been able to match the wit, wisdom, and intellectual rigor of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. During his thirty year career he has been an indefatigable champion of originalism (a principle of interpretation that views the Constitution’s meaning as fixed as of the time of enactment) and a vociferous critic of the slippery “living constitution” school of jurisprudence. When future historians assess his career Scalia will be viewed as one of the most thoughtful, principled, and important jurists of his era.

But even a legal genius can produce a disastrous opinion, and Scalia delivered his worst twenty-five years ago this week in Employment Division v. Smith. As Michael Stokes Paulsen explains, this ruling has “proven to be one of the most devastatingly long-term harmful Supreme Court constitutional decisions of the past half century.”

Notre_Dame_signEarlier today the Supreme Court threw out an appeals court decision that went against the University of Notre Dame over its religious objections to the Obamacare health law’s contraception requirement.

Last summer the high court ruled that Hobby Lobby Stores Ltd could, on religious grounds, seek exemptions from the contraception provision. Because this case, Notre Dame v. Burwell, was the only appeals court decision on the issue that pre-dated that ruling, the Supreme Court sent it back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision ruling in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Until now, Notre Dame was the only nonprofit religious ministry in the nation without protection from the HHS mandate. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the federal government has relied heavily on the decision against Notre Dame in courts around the country, arguing that it should be able to impose similar burdens on religious ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate. For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the IRS,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “As with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby, this is a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government’s narrow view of religious liberty. The government fought hard to prevent this GVR, but the Supreme Court rejected their arguments.”



o-SUPREME-COURT-BUILDING-facebookOne of the core principles of the Acton Institute is the importance of the rule of law: “The government’s primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights.”

While most conservatives would agree with this sentiment, there has recently been a lot of confusion about what defending the rule of law requires and entails. The most troubling mistake is the confusion of the rule of law with judicial supremacy, the view that the Supreme Court gets to have the “final say” on the meaning of the Constitution and that the other branches of government may not contradict it.

As Carson Holloway says, conservatives should defend the Constitution and the rule of law, but they should not defend judicial supremacy. The Constitution—not the Supreme Court—is our country’s highest authority:


blaine-standing-leftEleven years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Locke v. Davey that continues to have a detrimental impact on religious liberty. But the seeds for that ruling were planted 140 years ago, in another attempt to curb religious liberty.

When James Blaine introduced his ill-fated constitutional amendment in 1875, he probably never would have imagined the unintended consequences it would have over a hundred years later. Blaine wanted to prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools (a code word for Catholic parochial schools) in order to inhibit immigration. Since the public schools instilled a Protestant Christian view upon its students, public education was viewed as a way to stem the tide of Catholic influence.

While the amendment passed by a large majority (180-7) in the House, it failed by a tiny margin (4 votes) in the Senate. Supporters of the amendment, however, pressed the issue at the state level, often making it a prerequisite for statehood. The measure finally found its way into 37 state constitutions, including Washington State.

Fast-forward to 1999, where a Washington high school student Joshua Davey applies for the state sponsored “Promise Scholarships.” According to a press report in 2004: