Scalia on the Constitution
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explained and defended his "originalist" approach to constitutional interpretation in a closing address to a Princeton University conference on James Madison, fourth president and framer of the Constitution.
Speaking on Feb. 23, 2001, Justice Scalia explained that he, like Madison, interprets the Constitution according to the "common sense" meaning and definition of the document's words at the time they were written. An opposite approach, Scalia suggested from that applied by Justices who believe the Constitution "changes from age to age in order to meet the needs of a changing society."
Scalia criticized the second approach, saying that it too often results in crafting subjective interpretations of the Constitution to address issues that could and should be handled by Congress.
Calling his view of the Constitution an "originalist" view, Scalia conceded it often places him in a position of supporting laws that do not seem to make sense.
"It may well be stupid, but if it's stupid, pass a law!" he said. "Don't think the originalist interpretation constrains you. To the contrary. My Constitution is a very flexible Constitution. You want a right to abortion? Create it the way all rights are created in a democracy, pass a law. The death penalty? Pass a law. That's flexibility."
Scalia suggested that supporters of the "living Constitution" view, allowing for flexible interpretations molded to meet the changing times, really wanted "rigidity."
"They want the whole country to do it their way from coast to coast. They want to drive one issue after another off the stage of political debate Every time you insert into the Constitution - by speculation - new rights that aren't really there you are impoverishing democracy. You are pushing one issue after another off the democratic stage."
Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, Justice Scalia is considered one of the court's conservatives along with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. [Current Supreme Court Justices]
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