By Laura Berman / The Detroit News
The woman beside me, a law school professor's wife, whispered, "It's like inviting the enemy to come to speak."
Into the lion's den of Ann Arbor liberalism, then, strode Antonin Scalia, the associate Supreme Court justice and intellectual gladiator.
Theoretically, it might have been yet another one of those culture clashes -- conservative versus liberal, red state versus blue state -- that nobody is, post-Nov. 2, in the immediate need of.
It was Scalia, you see, whose pointed disdain for affirmative action policies led him to ask, during U-M's Supreme Court fight, why the law school didn't simply lower its elite standards if it wanted more diversity.
Perhaps, he'd mused, a state law school didn't need to be so elite. (That work might be left to Harvard, the law school he attended, or other private colleges.)
On campus, Scalia -- with his reputation for intellectual rigor and contempt for those lacking it -- was perhaps the one Supreme Court justice who might be considered, as law professor Richard Friedman put it, "anathema," to those who hold dear the idea of a living, breathing U.S. Constitution.
This very idea is what riles Scalia. "We have become addicted to, inordinately fond of, the idea of a living Constitution," he said, with a sarcastic edge in his voice. "Oh, how I hate that phrase."
Want to change the law of the land? "There are provisions for that. ... Pass a law, amend the Constitution." Heck, he might as well have said: "Stick a fork in it." His point was: Don't let nine lawyers adapt the meaning of the Constitution to these times. Either the Founding Fathers mentioned abortion or female suffrage or they didn't.
"But don't come to me and ask me to do it," he said.
The sitting Supreme Court judge on public view, bandying bon mots and challenging questioners, is rare enough that nobody at the University of Michigan recalls another instance of such an appearance. And Scalia drew a standing-room only crowd of skeptics and admirers, including a number of U-M law professors who admire his intellectual prowess and rigor, if not, necessarily, his point of view.
If judges are expected to exhibit temperance and tolerance and a kind of even-handedness, well, Scalia defied expectations and flaunted -- in the heart of politically correct territory -- his lack of interest in those rules.
"I don't like sandal-wearing bearded weirdos ... who go around burning flags," he observed, in a room that contained more than a few who might match the description.
He stared down second-year law student Megan Roberts, as she bravely questioned him on a technical legal point and struggled to keep going, beneath his withering gaze. "I admit, I was intimidated," Roberts told me later, mentioning his "sarcastic and dismissive" approach. Even the obligatory public demonstration -- a few students carrying construction paper signs silently through the room -- was staged politely.
Maybe even the noisemakers are tired.
But in these harsh and hostile times, the reaction to Scalia's appearance struck me as a triumph for civility and freedom.
We really needed one of those.
Two Former U.S. Attorneys General Criticize the Growth of Federal Crime Statutes
The Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation co-hosted a discussion of Prof. John S. Baker, Jr.'s groundbreaking study commissioned by the Federalist Society, "Measuring The Explosive Growth of Federal Crime Legislation." A webcast of the discussion with former Attorneys General Edwin Meese and Richard Thornburgh is available at the Heritage Foundation's event archive page. Please click HERE to watch this event.
Awards and Fellowships
The Federalist Society has three opportunities available for young legal scholars.We are now seeking nominations for the Paul M. Bator Award and applications for the John M. Olin Fellows in Law.
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