With the announcement of the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, we saw again how important it is who sits on the Supreme Court. Contrary to Sen. Rand Paul’s assertion that just because a few people think something is constitutional doesn’t make it so (yes, he really said that) the views of those on the court can impact our lives for generations. The major decisions of the court in the next few years will impact marriage equality immigration, women’s issues and much more.
The rant of Justice Antonin Scalia during the oral arguments and again when reciting his dissenting opinion in the Arizona immigration case make it clear that we need to ensure we don’t populate the court with other justices who apparently would rather be politicians than judges. While most of the other justices seemed to make an attempt at being fair and impartial during the questioning, there was absolutely no question where Scalia stood.
“The state has no power to close its borders to people who have no right to be there?” he asked incredulously. His questions also included: “What does ‘sovereignty’ mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?” “Are you objecting to harassing the people who have no business being here? Surely you’re not concerned about harassing them.” And then he asked: “We have to enforce our laws in a manner that will please Mexico?”
During the reading of his dissent he ranted inappropriately about an issue that was totally irrelevant to the case saying, “After this case was argued and while it was under consideration, the secretary of homeland security announced a program exempting from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants” and continued, “The president has said that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the immigration laws. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind.”
This is typical Scalia. In a “60 Minutes” interview, Scalia said, “I’m a law-and-order guy. I mean, I confess I’m a social conservative, but it does not affect my views on cases.” How can that be when you travel the world dispensing your opinions on law and order freely to anyone that may ask?
Scalia has attacked colleagues, once calling a Justice Breyer-penned decision “sheer applesauce.” Justice Ginsburg has also been the target of some of Scalia’s zingers; he called one of her opinions “absurd,” another “implausible speculation,” and another “self-righteous.” He once said of Justice O’Connor, “This opinion is not to be taken seriously.”
Scalia himself has said, “When I first came on the court I thought I would for sure get off as soon as I could, which would have been when I turned 65. Because you know, justices retire at full salary. So there’s no reason not to leave and go off and do something else. So you know, essentially I’ve been working for free, which probably means I’m too stupid to be on the Supreme Court.
“You should get somebody with more sense. But I cannot — what happened is, simply I cannot think of what I would do for an encore. I can’t think of any other job that I would find as interesting and as satisfying.”
The time for the American public to allow a Supreme Court justice to serve because he finds his own rants interesting and satisfying should be over. Scalia calls himself an “originalist.” He believes in interpreting the Constitution by trying to decipher what the original writers were thinking when they wrote it. He seems to forget that women and African Americans, among others, weren’t represented among the writers. Scalia sells those men short. I believe they did understand that society would change and they wrote a brilliant document that can be interpreted by modern society. Retirement with full pay may seem even too much to grant Scalia, but I suggest he take the money and leave the rest of us in peace.
The next president will get the opportunity to appoint at least two justices and we need to ensure they will be men and women of substance who recognize that the Constitution is a living document. It is crucial that we vote with this in mind. Our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren hang in the balance.